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June 10, 2008

A Wonderful Tourist Stop Must For Midwest Travellers

Filed under: News & Views — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 5:52 pm

On May 23rd, 2008, my wife and I spent part of the day driving on Route 66 in Illinois.  Many times in the past, we had thought of stopping in the tiny burg of Funk’s Grove, but due to time constraints, we bypassed the little hamlet about eight miles southwest of Bloomington-Normal.

This trip, we scheduled the time to stop in Funk’s Grove, and it was the best half-day we have spent on the road in many years–maybe our best tourist stop together ever!

First, we stopped at Funk’s Grove Maple Sirup.  You read that right–SIRUP!  The Funk family retained the original spelling of the word.  My wife grew up in Northwest Wisconsin, an area where many people believe the best maple syrup is made.  As we entered the shop just off Route 66 in a nice wooded area, we were greeted by a friendly woman.  Her name was Debby Funk.  She represents the current generation in the family business.  Funks have been selling maple syrup for decades.  Upon entering the shop, Ms. Funk poured for us samples of their magical liquid.  My wife tasted it first.  Being the cynic who believed that Northwest Wisconsin Maple Syrup was unbeatable, I was totally floored when I witnessed her reaction.  She was speechless.  I waited for a second to verify that her astonishment was from a positive experience, and then I took my taste.  The only way I can describe the tastes is that of fine scotch without the alcohol.  This is the absolute best pure maple syrup there is! 

Inside the shop, there was a small Route 66 gift shop.  We purchased some Route 66 coffee mugs, the Route 66 (Campy) map series, and some additional presents for others.  Yes, we unloaded a bundle of money for the syrup.  It was a bundle not because it is expensive, but because we purchased a tree’s worth of syrup.

After the stopover at the store, we drove across I-55 to the Funk Prairie Home and Rock Museum.  We had 1 PM appointments to take the tour of this 19th century oasis.  Once again, we were not expecting all that much because this tour’s admission was FREE.

We were greeted outside our car by Mr. Bill Case.  Before we could even get to the back steps of the mansion, he began the tour by giving us interesting information.  For the next 90 minutes, Mr. Case lectured on the history while showing us through the house.  I have no idea how many times he has given this tour, but I would guess it would run well into the thousands and to groups as large as several dozen at a time.  This tour was just for the two of us, and he acted like he was doing it for the first time.  If all my college professors had been this interested in their teachings, I might have become a perpetual student.  Mr. Case is without a doubt the best history teacher I have ever learned from in my nearly 50 years.  My retention rate from his monologue still approaches 100% nearly three weeks later.

The second half of this three-hour tour was adjacent to the building at the rock museum.  If you combined the greatest purveyors of prose in world history, they could not adequately describe the next 90 minutes.  Without ruining the experience for those who want to visit here with no idea what they will witness, let me just sum up our feelings in a few sentences.  My wife is a jewelry designer, and she has sold her jewelry in upscale retail establishments such as Bloomingdales.  Art critics have applauded her designs and one newspaper art reporter coined her creations, “wearable masterpieces.”  She is an expert in rocks and gems, and she has even mined Canadian amethyst.  She knows her stuff.  Well, again, she wasn’t expecting too much.  Before we even entered the rock museum, once again the exterior had many interesting works.  An array of petrified wood and a bevy of heavy rocks were there to observe.  Mr. Case had me take a hammer and hit a piece of wood; it felt like hitting solid iron and sounded like a xyzolophone.

Once inside, it is a total, but extremely pleasant, overload of optical and audial information.  Gemstone rocks of every type and sub-type on many rows are there to observe up close.  A room of petrified objects including dinosaur feces, mushrooms, a dragon fly, and many others accompanied a multitude of fossils.  Maybe most impressive, there is an intact saber-tooth tiger skull.

In separate rooms, there are 19th century-dated carriages, saddles, a one-horse open sleigh, and several other interesting objects. 

When we finally departed a little more than three hours after we arrived, my wife was so overwhelmed, she had tears of joy running down her cheeks. 

I give the town of Funk’s Grove my highest endorsement and highly recommend all who read this to investigate it further.  Visit for more information.  We will definitely return for another visit.

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