Allerton Park & Retreat Center

Million dollar gift to Allerton will improve visitor experience

$1M gift from Dave and Debbie Rathje will be used to fund a new entrance drive to the Allerton Mansion.

by Bridget Frerichs
09.20.17

Monticello – Allerton Park and Retreat Center has announced a one million dollar gift from Dave and Debbie Rathje, which will be used to fund a new entrance drive to the Allerton Mansion. A public Groundbreaking Ceremony will begin construction and honor the Rathjes on Friday, September 29 at 2:30pm outside the Mansion, 515 Old Timber Road, Monticello.

The David J. and Debra C. Rathje Allerton Mansion Grand Entrance Drive will create a more prominent, accessible vehicular entry to the Mansion, in addition to ADA accessible walkways and improved lighting. The 22-foot concrete driveway will run along the current Gate House carriage lane where guests would have historically approached the Mansion.

“In 1953, the University installed the main parking lot where it currently is, but there has never been an accessible link to the Mansion,” explained Allerton’s Director Derek Peterson. “The Master Plan identified this as a long overdue improvement that will increase accessibility.”

Dave and Debbie, of Decatur, have been enjoying Allerton for over 60 years, but hadn’t been inside the Mansion until July 2014 when they joined Allerton staff for a tour.

Final Concept of The David J. and Debra C. Rathje Allerton Mansion Grand Entrance Drive

“We hadn’t been inside because we didn’t know it was open,” Debbie said. “The Mansion is a beautiful building, architecturally, and it is sad people don’t get to see it. A road leading up to it will let visitors know that it’s open.”

While the Rathjes originally planned to support a semi-permanent tent structure to increase Allerton’s event space and revenue, deferred maintenance and code issues stalled that project. Park officials note that this endeavor will put Allerton’s main revenue-producer, the Mansion, “front and center” in an effort to bring in additional business to support the estate’s aging facilities and expansive grounds.

“As it relates to the Master Plan, this is what’s going to get everything else moving forward,” Peterson said, noting that one of the biggest obstacles new visitors face is the ability to find the Mansion. “We’ve had people call from the parking lot wondering where to go, or drive all the way down to the Sun Singer looking for it.”

The Rathjes agree, noting that a more “welcoming” entrance will encourage visitors to stop in and find out what Allerton has to offer, including weddings, conferences, events, and lodging. Peterson added that the Drive, which is scheduled to be complete in May 2018, should give visitors a new experience upon arrival, and the feeling of a “celebratory approach” that the Mansion hasn’t had since Robert Allerton lived there.

The gift from the Rathjes is the largest the Park has received since it was donated to the University in 1946. Given their history with the Park and their love for Allerton, Dave and Debbie are happy to be able to help.

“I’m glad that we can get things going, and hope this encourages more donations from others,” Dave said. “I love the place, and I want it to last for future generations.”

For more information on the project or Groundbreaking Ceremony contact Bridget at bridgetf@illinois.edu or call 217-333-3287.

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