Ask an American where maple syrup comes from, and they’ll usually mention Vermont, just as most Canadians will think of Quebec. There is, however, another place known for the stuff. That place is Funks Grove, in Illinois, and there they call it maple sirup. Funks Grove is near Shirley, Illinois, a small village just off Route 66 (or Interstate 55), and it’s easy to find due to the many signs along the road.
What has become a local legend started back in 1824 when Isaac Funk left Germany and settled in a natural maple grove some fifteen miles south of Bloomington, Illinois. Funk had picked the location due to its easy access to water, timber, and good soil. It wasn’t long before he began tapping the “sweet trees” on the land – legend has it he started the very first February he was there. Funk started out by producing small quantities of maple syrup and maple sugar for his family’s use as a ready source of sweetener. Soon, he and his sons were making syrup not only for themselves, but also for neighbors who’d heard about the quality of the Funks’ product.
Their private production became a family business when Arthur Funk, Isaac’s grandson, opened a commercial syrup camp in 1891. The business passed to his brother Lawrence in 1896, and later to his cousin Hazel Funk Holmes. It was Hazel who insisted that the product’s name be spelled with an “i”, just as Noah Webster (and the agriculture departments of the US and Canada) spelled it. Hazel ran the operation for many years, taking it from the old way of boiling sap outdoors to more modern methods of production.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Hazel decided to retire and placed Funks Grove, and the maple sirup operation, into in the careful hands of her nephew Steve Funk and his wife, Glaida, when he returned from the war. Together, they continued the modernization of the production, installing heat exchangers and reverse osmosis machines to conserve energy. Today, Funks Grove Maple Sirup continues to be family owned and operated. Steve and Glaida's daughter Susan, a prolific writer of children’s books and romance novels, has joined the business, as has her brother Michael and his wife Debby. Also, the trees of Funks Grove are now part of a trust that specifies they may never be used for anything but maple sirup production.
The sirup still sells as well, or better, as it ever did. Folks in central Illinois, and some from all parts of the world, know to get their orders in early or be disappointed. Those “Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup” signs along the highway tend to be covered all too soon with another sign reading, “Sold Out”.
Route66.com, "Funks Grove," Route 66 Guide. 2001-03. <http://route66.com/FunksGrove/> (April 2004).
Teague, Tom. "Searching for 66." Springfield, Illinois: Samzidat House, 1996.