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Funk’s Prairie Home and Gem Museum shows Illinois history
Illinois Correspondent

SHIRLEY, Ill. — In 1824, Isaac Funk arrived in McLean County, Ill. from Ohio with little in the way of belongings. In his lifetime, this ambitious man accumulated 25,000 acres, which were put to good use by his well-known grandsons.

Funk’s son, LaFayette, later built the Funk Prairie Home as a wedding present for his wife, Elizabeth; the couple had two sons. Today, the home along with the Funk Gem and Mineral Museum are available for tours to the general public.

For those in the farm community, the Funk name is familiar because LaFayette’s son, Eugene Funk, was the founder of Funk Brothers Seed Co., which established the first commercial hybrid corn, Funks Tribred. Eugene Duncan Funk, known as E.D., opened the company in 1910. Then it was his children, especially E.D. Jr., who continued to work diligently with Funk Seed Co.

The company grew to be one of the three largest producers of hybrid seed corn in the United States. The company also was a leader in the improvement of soybean seeds; and, of course, hybrid seed corn. Remaining in the family for seven decades, Funk Brothers was bought by Corn Products Co. in the late 1960s. Later, that company was bought by another major chemical trademark.

However, seed is still sold under the Funk’s G-Hybrid trademark.

While those in farming are familiar with E.D. Funk’s name, LaFayette’s other son, Marquis DeLoss, is credited with electrifying the Funk Prairie Home and the entire farm. According to museum materials, the Funk farm was the first private farm in the world to be extensively electrified. Eastern journalists nicknamed Funk’s Prairie Home as the City on the Prairie.

The 13-room house was built in 1863-64 with lumber and timber from Funk’s Grove. DeLoss Funk and his wife, Sina Belle, moved in after his parents died. Sina Belle remained in the home until she passed away in 1971. Since then, the Paul A. Funk Heritage Trust has preserved the home.

The purpose of the trust is to restore and maintain the Prairie Home in its original condition to give current and future generations a glimpse of life in the 1860s and years immediately following.

Resting on a 27-acre site, the home and museum are surrounded by gardens and barns built in 1864. There is also a chicken coop.

Outside the home, visitors may see the generator that DeLoss Funk built to electrify the home in the small storm-cellar-structure.

The home itself has a parlor, living room, library, pantry, dining room, kitchen and bathroom on the main floor. The rooms are filled with period furniture and highlighted by the arched pocket doors housed. An Italian marble fireplace is in the living room. The upstairs has six bedrooms and a bathroom.

Besides the home, The LaFayette Funk Gem and Mineral Museum is in a separate structure built in 1973, adjoining Prairie Home.

LaFayette Funk’s grandson, LaFayette II, gathered this collection of minerals during more than 30 years of “rock hound” activities during the middle of the 20th Century.

Museum materials said the facility houses the largest one-man gem and mineral collection in the world. Both inside and out are minerals from every corner of the globe.

Most of these are in their natural, uncut condition, but cut and polished examples are included. Besides a hall of gems and minerals, there are separate collections of fossils, central Illinois Indian artifacts, Chinese soapstone carvings, seashells and corals, saddles, buggies and sleighs, and a room of fluorescent minerals which glow under ultraviolet light.

The curator of the museum and home, Bill Case, said Funk was known around the world for his assistance in deigning and constructing the physical facilities for seed plants and helping underdeveloped countries with agricultural techniques.

“If a nation didn’t have money, he built the seed plant anyway and helped train people on how to grow crops,” Case said. “When he turned 53, he went on a field trip with his son,” this is how his interest in geology began.

“He memorized all the books in the library. He loved rocks and when he visited countries, they would let him into mines that even the Smithsonian couldn’t get into.”

As massive as his collection is, Case added he gave away much more.

“For years, he kept getting packages from kings and presidents, sending gems and minerals in thanks for assistance,” he said.

The home and museum are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday from March through December. Both are free of charge. Call 309-827-6792 for directions.

This farm news was published in the May 10, 2006 issue of Farm World.