Route 66 Series: Funk’s Maple Sirup (That’s No Typo)

We weren’t that far down the Route 66 when I saw the entry in our guide book. “Funk’s Maple Sirup.” I giggled to myself, thinking it must be a typo. But as I read a bit more about this lovely-sounding place, I realized two things. One – the spelling was intentional, a small nod to the woman who preserved her heavenly maple farmland for generations to come. Two – this place had homemade maple candy for sale.

My husband whipped the car off the main highway and onto a windy road far back in the trees. I confess I grew apprehensive when we passed an isolated, abandoned, and very creepy-looking country store – the perfect place for a horror movie to unfold. Just how badly did I want to try maple candy for the first time? Pretty darn bad I guess, since we kept on going.

Luckily, within a few moments, we safely pulled into a small grove with gorgeous shade-trees, brightly-colored rocking chairs, a pretty little shop with a wooden porch, and windows slapped everywhere with Route 66 stickers. It had the appearance of an antique post card come to life, a scene that beckoned from a whole other era. Maybe because it has been there for a century and a half. The first Funk family members found their way to this beautiful grove well before the Civil War (and you guys know how much I looooove talking about the Civil War).

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Isaac Funk, the pioneer patriarch of the future Sirup dynasty, settled down with his young family at the grove sometime in 1824. It’s easy to see why he picked the place, especially thinking in 1800s terms. The soil is fantastic, there’s plenty of bubbling streams nearby, and enough timber to build a house and keep it warm during the winter. However, Funk the First didn’t have sticky, brown goodness on his mind when he plopped his stakes into the ground. He had already made a name for himself in herding livestock. Such a name that he eventually served in the Illinois Senate, where he met and made friends with this tall, gangly fellow named Lincoln. As it happened, that stovepipe hat became a force to reckoned with, and when Lincoln ran for the White House, Isaac Funk was one of his biggest supporters.

While Isaac worked at the Senate, his sons took over the farm and began experimenting with the delightful sap dripping from the nearby maple trees. They had no intentions of selling it yet, but they certainly enjoyed cooking it up and using it as sweetener on their food. It wasn’t until Isaac’s youngest son, Isaac II, took over the farm in 1860 that syrup production became a major part of Funk’s Grove operations.

Unfortunately, around the same time, people lost interest in syrup because of some little skirmish known as the Civil War. Funk boys across the grove put their sugar aspirations on hold, donning the Union blue for a long and bloody four years. It is quite fortunate, considering the horrific nature of that conflict, that no Funk sons lost their lives in the fighting. When it was over, they returned to their peaceful little grove and went right back to syrup as if nothing had even pulled them away.

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Perhaps after such a bitter four years, everyone was in the mood for something sweet. When the Funks started selling pure maple syrup from their porch in the late 1800s, it took off like a shot. By 1891, they had enough money for Isaac II’s son Arthur to open the first commercial maple syrup farm on the grove. He also modernized the syrup-cooking process, trading in the wooden taps for metal ones and erecting an official cooking house on the site. When Arthur’s brother Lawrence took over in 1896, Funk’s Maple Grove could pump out over 1,000 buckets of syrup.

The Funk boys did a pretty bang up job making the grove a landmark, but it was actually Hazel Funk Holmes, a cousin of Arthur and Lawrence, who made the place a permanent fixture when she took over in the 1920s. Since she lived out east, she rented the Grove to professional farmers, who took the syrup products to the next level. She had a new sugar house constructed, and she also implemented more modernization in the harvesting and cooking processes. After she was done, Funk’s Grove syrup farmers were pumping 240 GALLONS of syrup from those trees every year.

With Hazel’s help and many others, Funk’s Maple Syrup became a staple sweetener, just in time for Route 66 to finish construction right near the property. Still not finished carving the Funk legacy, Hazel ensured the place would live forever in her will, when she deeded the property to a trust that would protect it from development and land grabbers – keeping the maples and their sweet syrup safe for generations to come. As a final flourish, she also insisted that henceforth, Funk “Sirup” would be spelled with an “i,” to set them apart from all the cheap knock offs that had begun to flood the market.

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Yes, things were looking pretty good for Funk’s Grove, until war came knocking again in the 1940s. This time it was World War II (Civil War and WWII talk in one post – lucky me!). With the war came rationing, and sugar taxes sky rocketed. Funk’s Maple Grove suffered as a result, especially when more Funk boys left the farm to join the fight.

One of these was Stephen Funk, son of former owner Lawrence and his wife. Stephen became a fighter pilot in the war, and when he came home, thankfully alive and in one piece, he and his wife Glaida took over Funk’s Grove. They had five children and turned the place into a power house for that brown goo we all love. Through the 1950s and 60s, Stephen brought the grove up to speed for the thriving, post-war era. He dispensed with the cumbersome above-ground sap evaporating equipment and had the first underground cistern installed. He also converted all the wood-burning heating stoves to oil, which smoothened and quickened the pace of production. But despite all the modernization, one thing never changed. He still sold every bottle of sirup directly off their charming, old-fashioned back porch.

Things went sweeter than syrup for a good few years, but then another fight started brewing, this time with the forces of development. When construction began on Interstate 55 in the 1970s, it created a big stir in the Funk household. The proposed route would cut right through their precious timber. Not to mention Route 66 had become a vital lifeline for customers. The Funks once again donned their fighting gear, and successfully petitioned to keep the new interstate out of their gorgeous maples. Once they won that battle, they rallied their advertising forces to get hurried, interstate travelers into their Grove, tempting them with a dip of sirup and some maple candy.

Although the Interstate did take a hefty load of their business away, their advertising efforts paid off and brought some traffic from the busy I-55. Not a ton, but enough to keep the sap buckets hanging and the syrup cooking. In 1988, Stephen Funk retired, leaving the business to his children. They still run the place today, where a Route 66 revival has brought them all kinds of new and curious customers. And still, even in these harried, crazy times, you can buy that fresh “sirup” right off their cozy porch. But you can also purchase it at their website, as long as supplies for the season last. Which is no-doubt a God send in these times of Covid.

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So what did I learn at Funk’s Maple Grove, other than the colorful history of dedicated Funks catering to decades’ worth of sugar cravings? Well, for one thing, I learned the delights of Maple Candy. I had actually never tried it before I stopped there. I only got four pieces, but don’t you worry –that was plenty for a sugar high that kept me bouncing off the walls all day.  

The other thing I learned is quite simple. In these terribly turbulent times, where it seems like everything is changing, it felt nice to see something that hadn’t changed all that much since 1824. Sure, the process of making Sirup has been modernized for convenience and safety. The buildings have had their fair share of repairs and upkeep. But the sales portion hasn’t changed at all. Funks still hand you bottles of Sirup the same way they always have, on their homey front porch with a friendly smile. The whole thing made me slow down and appreciate the little things a bit more. Like what a friendly “sirup” maker and a piece of maple candy can do for you.

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As this was one of our first stops on the 66, we weren’t that familiar with the laid back routine yet, but I got my first taste of it on the porch at Funk’s Grove. Sitting in one of those brightly colored rocking chairs, I took a deep breath of the fresh air. I felt something wash over me. A calm and a stillness. I took a minute to admire the way the golden sunlight beamed into the maple trees. I watched a few happy customers walk out of the shop with their own candy and sirup. It was then that I remembered we weren’t in a hurry. We could slow down and really take it in. “We’re here,” I said to myself. “We’re on the Route 66. We’re doing this. Enjoy it.” 

Not a bad lesson to apply to life, either. With everything going on, it’s quite easy to forget to stop and take a breath. Count the little blessings, no matter how hard they are to find sometimes. Enjoy the sun beaming through the trees, stop and smell the maple sirup, and don’t forget to smile. We’re here. We’re doing this. And we’ll find our way down the road.

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SOURCES

Route 66 Road Trip

Visit to Funk’s Grove, Illinois

https://www.funkspuremaplesirup.com/#&panel1-1

The Illustrated Route 66 Historical Atlas – J. Hinckley

Route 66: The Mother Road – M. Wallis

All photos by M.B. Henry, except my husband snapped the final one for me – Fall Leaves photos were taken off site. Click Here for more Route 66 photos, and Here for more fall colors. Happy fall ya’all. 

AND A SPECIAL WRITING ANNOUNCEMENT: After a crazy querying journey of many ups and downs, I’ve signed with a literary agent (Lindsay Guzzardo at Martin Literary Management)! This is very exciting news, and means I am one big step closer to getting my book(s) out there in the world for you to read. I will keep you updated as things develop. For those of you out there querying agents – NEVER give up! It will happen when you LEAST suspect it… 🙂 

108 Comments on “Route 66 Series: Funk’s Maple Sirup (That’s No Typo)

    • Glad you liked it! We still have some of that pure maple sirup and man is it good on pancakes 🙂

    • Yeah I can understand that – it was a bit pricey here too, but I splurged since I’d never tried it before. It was delicious – but I probably won’t eat it very often because it sure did give me a wild sugar high!

  1. I am so happy you got to try Maple Candy. Our Summer home is near a Maple Syrup Place. And I always try to gift people with Pennsylvania Maple Syrup, Maple Candy and my favorite… whipped Maple Butter.

    Glad you stopped and told us about the place. Thank you!

    • Yeah it was fun to give it a whirl! Man did it give me a raging sugar high, so I probably won’t eat it very often, but I really did enjoy it 🙂 🙂 The Maple Sirup at this place is fantastic too, I recommend!

  2. This excellent post is sure to get us out of a “funk”! It’s dripping with sweetness and oozing such rich history. I have a toothache it’s so good! 🤗😊

  3. What a wonderful little hidden gem! I may have to go check out their website. I loved maple candy as a once in a blue moon special treat when I was a child.

  4. Congratulations of locating a literary agent to represent you with book publishers! And enjoy the autumn road trip adventure with your traveling companion!

    • Thanks very much! 🙂 This is actually an ongoing series from a trip down the entire Route 66 that we took last year. I only wish we could go now! I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a great road trip 🙂

  5. It’s a great story that I will have to remember as I travel along Route 66; as for maple syrup, it is of course one of my favourite flavours here in Canada.

    • 🙂 I bet! I’d love to explore more of Canada someday, I went once in high school and loved it.

      • If you like maple sy/irup, think about going to Quebec during sugar time, it’s delicious and very festive despite the persisting cold season.

  6. As always, MB, a highly entertaining and meticulously researched piece on your chosen subject. Sounds like an absolute gem of a place — with a really interesting, really long history.

    And major congratulations on landing an agent! Fantastic news!

  7. Thanks for bringing back a good memory of the Route 66 trip my sons and I took in 2013. There’s just so much to see and do on the road in Illinois.

    • I’m happy it brought back fond memories for you 🙂 I have to say Illinois claimed the top spot on the route for us. The state has done a really good job preserving the road, marking it, and keeping the attractions going.

  8. Don’t you just love running across hidden treasures like this when you travel… especially when there are sweets to be had? And best wishes for good things ahead!

    • It’s one of my absolute favorite things about road trips – the unplanned gem stops 🙂 Thanks for the well wishes too! 🙂

  9. Glad to hear some things are still available on the Big 66. That entire highway should be designated a protected historic part of Americana!

    • You might be happy to know the route is experiencing a bit of a revival (at least it was when we traveled it pre-pandemic… hopefully it gets back up to speed when people travel more). I was surprised how many people we encountered, and a lot of the shop owners said business had picked up a lot after Cars came out. Made me happy to hear – and they do have the cutest little Cars characters scattered all through the route 🙂

  10. OK, I’m ‘Comment #38.’ I feel like I have to thank you for taking me along on this tour de force of ‘Sirup. I too love these fascinating what, visits to destinations that enjoy rich stories, and were wrought by real, good people. I almost can boast of being able to taste the maple candy, you so well described it.

    • I’m so very glad you enjoyed the virtual visit of Funk’s Grove – it was a lovely place and I’m happy to share it! 🙂

  11. Another interesting travelogue about Routh 66. Well written and designed to hold the reader until the conclusion. Anxious to read the next one. Congrats on signing an agent. Looking forward to your first book.

    • Thanks Lee! I’ll keep everyone updated on how things develop there. Glad you liked the post too 🙂

    • 🙂 Thanks much! Can’t wait to see what comes of that. Glad you liked the post

    • Yeah – I look forward to the day we can all travel again as well 🙂 If you do ever make the 66, I know you will love it!

  12. What a sweet post, MB! I really wanted to be right there in the maple grove with you. I love places that can take us back in time to a slower paced world.

  13. Hi MB, What an entertaining story. I grew up in Indiana. My grandpa used to tell me stories of tapping the maple trees to make syrup. It certainly started my sweet tooth. I enjoyed your blog and it’s always great to meet a fellow history lover. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    • What part of Indiana, if you don’t mind my asking? My husband grew up in Wheeler 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and that it brought back some charming memories.

      • Oh fun! I’ve been there a few times – really nice city 🙂

      • It has changed a lot since I lived there. My brother and I went back for a visit seven years ago. It was so much fun to see it again. 🙂

  14. Bravo – a wonderful story full of history just the way you and your readers like it!
    I can taste the maple candy and I can feel the peace of a front porch rocker.
    Travel on.

    • 🙂 So glad you enjoyed it. And yes you better believe it, as soon as it is safe to do so, we will travel on! 🙂

  15. Congrats on the agent MB, huge excitement … I’m doing a happy dance 🙂

    mention of two wars in one post, you warmonger! And I always thought maple syrup originated in Canada … so learnt heaps and route 66 sounds like a very worthy trip 🙂

    well told once more, I have no doubt you will be published soon … your history stories are both worthy and interesting to read!

    • Aww thanks for the happy dance! 🙂 I really appreciate that. I would have happy danced too but man am I a terrible dancer. And I know – two wars in one post I’m really crossing the line now! I should seek some help 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and my others too.

  16. Well written and fun, MB. Enjoyed the history and I do like maple syrup. It’s the only kind of syrup he keep in our house! Also appreciated the message on slowing down and enjoying life. So very important, now, more than ever. Thanks. –Curt

    • So glad you enjoyed it Curt! 🙂 We still have some of our Funk’s Maple Sirup and I do so enjoy having it on pancakes every now and then 🙂

  17. Great post M.B. I’ll probably get hounded for saying this but I’m not fond of maple syrup, maybe if I was to try some Maple Sirup it would change my opinion ! Ha ha .Its certainly amazing that the Funks (got to love that name) were settling in when Australia as it known after colonization was just a toddler of a nation!

    • Hey syrup isn’t for everyone! 🙂 And all the more for me then hahaha 🙂 🙂 And yes, it is kind of crazy to think how far back the Funk family goes, it was fun to visit, read, and learn about. So glad you enjoyed the post!

  18. 1. Thanks for sharing the history of this out-of-the way place.
    2. Now I’m craving maple syrup candies.
    3. YOU SIGNED WITH A LITERARY AGENT?! THAT IS COMPLETELY AWESOME!!! Congrats!!

    • 1. You’re welcome, I’m very glad you enjoyed it 🙂
      2. You and me both. But it’s not very available here in CA so I made do with Candy Corn.
      3. Yes I did, and I’m very excited about it!! 🙂 Thanks so much for the well-wishes, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

  19. Oh what a gem of a find, M.B. And your research is terrific. Love your photos of this place and your autumn leaves. Congratulations on signing with a literary agent! Well deserved. Good luck with it all.

    • Thanks very much! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the well-wishes with the agent. I’ll be looking forward to seeing where it all goes from here! 🙂

  20. Ben Jealous said in the Wash Post today that his 104 year old gr.grandma “sits in the balcony of history.” That’s what you’ve given us here. What a treat to see 200 years of sirup through wars and trouble, remain. Congrats on the literary front. I aspire 🙂

    • 🙂 What a nice saying! I really like that – thanks for sharing it. And I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. And thanks so much, I can’t wait to see where the books wind up!

  21. Wonderful post MB, lots of fun facts and yes, a lesson on how to get along as we continue to deal with the issues of the day. Congrats on the agency sign-up!!

  22. A fine story and storytelling. As I read, I kept thinking that MB has a gift for this. So I’m not surprised you’re connecting with an agent. Best! Loved the maple leaf photographs…

    • 🙂 🙂 That is so sweet of you to say, thanks very much! And I’m so glad you liked the post and photographs

  23. Oh wow, I love love love maple sugar candy. My mother used to give each of we kids a little 4-piece box at Christmas.

    Though I don’t love it enough to attempt tapping the big sugar maple tree that sits next to my driveway. I wonder if tapping it would eliminate the bazillion little sap droplets that hit my windshield when I park under the tree in late winter.

    What a coolplace!

    • Oh my gosh – I used to live in an apartment building where a sap tree drizzled my car all the time! It wasn’t even a maple one so there was no hope of candy! 🙁 So I totally understand your struggle lol. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post – and yes, I could see myself sampling more maple candy here and there.

    • It’s well worth the long travel time! I think you would really enjoy it 🙂

  24. That’s a lovely piece of writing, MB – and interesting, because maple syrup isn’t a big thing over here. Huge congrats on the agent, too. A couple of observations: firstly, I was a little concerned at first that this would turn into some kind of Hansel and Gretel story; secondly, how come Bobbie Troup never mentioned Funk’s Maple Sirup?!!

    • Your Hansel and Gretel concerns are warranted – especially when you see that creepy country store haha. And I don’t know about the Troup! I’m glad the guide book mentioned it at least 🙂
      So glad you liked the post!

      • Bobbie (or Bobby) Troup wrote the song, Get your Kicks on Route 66 – “you go through St Louis, Joplin Missouri, Oklahoma City is mighty pretty…” etc. Need to get Funk in there somehow 🙂

  25. MB, that is fabulous news about the publisher. Brava! You are an excellent writer and researcher so you deserve it. As for this post, I loved it – so autumnal and fun. I adore maple sirup and would love to visit such a ‘Funky’ place!

    • Thanks so much! I’m very excited to see what comes of it all. And yes – something tells me you would very much enjoy Funk’s Grove 🙂 That 66 is just full of all kinds of charm.

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