Funk's Grove - Also
getting its start by the Funk family, the grove was first settled by
brothers Isaac and Absalom Funk, who came to the region from Kentucky in
1824. Choosing the location for its water supply, fertile soil, and
timber, they were soon joined by Robert and Dorothy Funk Stubblefield who
followed from Ohio. Though the Funks may not be household names in
Illinois history, they were a very influential family. Isaac Funk soon
amassed some 25,000 acres of land and was the first
to start cattle-feeding operations in the Midwest. He and his brother Absalom built the meat-packing house in Chicago - then known as Fort
None other than
Lincoln served as the family attorney and he and
Isaac Funk were largely responsible for bringing the Chicago & Alton
Railroad through the region, sidetracking it from its planned route
through Peoria. he would also serve as an Illinois State Representative
and Senator, and was one of the founders of
the Illinois Wesleyan
University in Bloomington.
Isaac and his wife Cassandra, would have ten children, all of which would
have important leadership roles in
government, banks, universities, and private ventures.
would play a major role in the cattle business, was the
co-founder and boss of the Chicago Union Stockyards, and an
Illinois State Senator. In 1863, he built a home for his wife, Elizabeth,
in nearby Shirley, Illinois. The couple were known to have harbored
escaped slave on their farm during the Civil War. The home still stands in
Shirley today and is open for tours.
LaFayette's son, DeLoss would create a power plant for the
homestead in 1905 and would later wire all the Funk farms for telephone
service. Another of LaFayette's sons, Eugene, along with 11 other Funk
family members, founded Funk Bros Seeds in Bloomington
in 1901. It still operates today under the name of Ciba Seeds.
The family was also responsible for bringing the first
modern soybean crushing plant to the Midwest, the development of hybrid
corn, and other improvements to the region.
While I daresay that most people don't know
about the rich contributions made by the Funk Family to the area, they do
know that Funk's Grove is
home to "Maple Sirup." Upon nearing this old community, a rustic sign stands on a grassy embankment with the simple words "Maple Sirup.” Here, amongst the prairie, sits a natural maple grove dominating
the landscape and filled with sugar and black maples of record size. The
actual site of the syrup operation is about ¼ mile to the south.
At the sign, situated at Funks Grove Road,
turn west to the sleepy little hamlet of Funk's Grove. Here sits the old
Walker Store which once operated as a grocery store and gas station.
Later, it was utilized as an antique store, and though still filled with
dusty relics, it is closed today. The historic depot that stands in the
middle of the clearing was actually the passenger depot in nearby Shirley
before it was moved to Funk's Grove. The original Funk's Grove Depot is located at the Funk's Grove
Camp to the south.
Passing by still utilized grain silos, the
road continues westward about a mile to the old cemetery and Funk's Grove Church which
dates back to 1845. Adam Funk, Isaac's father, chose the location
of the cemetery and in 1830, he was the first to be buried there.
the Funk and Stubblefield families first came to the area church services
were first held in their private homes before a log school building was
constructed in 1827, at which time they were held there. Though the
building is gone, it is marked with a large stone just west of the still
standing church building. However, Robert Stubblefield would later insist
on building a "real" church building and he, along with Isaac and their
sons erected the building in 1864-65. The church, an outdoor "chapel," and
the cemetery are now owned and managed by the Funk's Grove Cemetery
Association. The church, which still features its original walnut pulpit
and altar rail, white pine pews, and original glass is open year round and
can be rented for weddings.
On down the road about another mile is the
original homestead site of Robert Stubblefield. All that's left today is a
rustic barn sitting in the middle of a field. Near here also was once the
Burger Sawmill and Farm. There is nothing left of the sawmill, but a sign
marks the spot.
The Sugar Grove Nature Center, which protects
over 1,000 acres of the largest remaining intact prairie grove in
Illinois, is just south of the old townsite of Funk's Grove. It includes
over five miles of trails and hosts various events throughout the year.
After having visited the sites of Funk's Grove, return to Route
66 and continue ¼ mile south to Funk's Grove Camp, the site where maple
sirup is made. For generations the Funk family used the many maple trees
to make syrup and maple sugar for their personal use. Years later, Arthur
Funk, Isaac’s grandson, capitalized on this when he opened the first
commercial sirup camp in 1891. In 1896 Arthur’s brother, Lawrence, took over
the operation and in the 1920's the sirup operation was passed to
Hazel Funk Holmes.
came through about this time, the Maple Sirup business boomed and
hardly could the sirup be made for the season when it was already sold
When Aunt Hazel was ready to retire she asked her nephew, Stephen
Funk, and his wife, Glaida, to take over the grove and the surrounding
farm in 1947. However, before transferring the operation, she arranged
for a trust insuring that Funk's Grove Pure Maple Sirup would be around for generations to
come. Although the trees are worth millions, the trust stipulated that
it would never be used for anything other than making maple sirup. The
trust also stipulated that the spelling of the word "Sirup” remain the
As to the spelling of
the word, a sign at Funk’s Grove had this to say:
Historically, according to Webster’s
Dictionary, "sirup” was the preferred spelling when referring to the
product made by boiling sap. "Syrup” with a "y”, however, was
defined as the end product of adding sugar to fruit juice. Though the "I” spelling is no longer commonly used, the United States
Department of Agriculture and Canada also still use it when referring
to pure maple sirup. Hazel Funk Holmes, whose trust continues to
preserve and protect this timber for maple sirup production insisted
on the "I” spelling during her lifetime. It’s another tradition that
will continue at Funks Grove.
In 1988, Stephen Funk
retired and his son Michael and wife, Debby took over the business.
Today, a seventh generation of Funks
continue to make sirup at this historic place that feels as though it
stepped right out a century ago, yet is just miles off of busy
The Funk family also still continues to farm
about 2,000 acres of the original homestead and manages about 1,000 head
Continue your journey down
Route 66 for more vintage peeks of the
Mother Road at
of America, updated June, 2016.