This article first appeared in the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal.


HYDE — By this time next week, the Blaze Orange Army will be spread throughout the state.

The pursuit of venison, which most hope will be carved from a trophy buck, will take deer hunters to the forests of the north, the watersheds of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, the central flatlands and the rich mix of farmland and woods that defines the state’s southern reaches.

Hunters will also come here, to northeastern Iowa County. Not as many make the trip compared with before 2002 when chronic wasting disease was found in the brains of the deer herd near Mount Horeb, but still they come.

And successful or not, the stories of the hunt need a place to be yarned. In the hamlet of Hyde, along Highway H, four miles north of Ridgeway, the Hyde Store fills that niche.

For generations a grocery store but since 1994 a roadside tavern, its six bar stools and three small tables provide a cozy den for the tales. Some will be true. Many will be stretched.

“Deer hunting isn’t like what it used to be. The CWD thing really killed it, but we still get a really good crowd for deer hunting,” said LeRoy Hubbard, whose grandmother bought the business in 1973. “It’s a family thing. Something we don’t want to get rid of.”

We live in a state filled with establishments of character and the Hyde Store certainly is among them.

The business got its start in the late 1800s and served as a food depot for the surrounding farm community. Two of its owners, a pair of half sisters, ran the store for 50 years before dying in a house fire next door to the tavern in 1956.

Hubbard, 54, grew up on a nearby farm and recalled as a child going to the store for treats. When he was in high school, he remembers his grandmother selling cold cuts and hand-sliced cheese while games of euchre were played near a pot-bellied stove.

This is a place that had an outhouse until the mid-1990s when the bar room was added and groceries were discontinued. Today, the former grocery space is home to a pool table while third-pound hamburgers are fried on a George Foreman Grill behind the bar. There are homemade pizzas but also tins of $2 sardines and $3.50 oysters with Ritz crackers served alongside at no extra charge.

Wine and liquor weren’t added until 2007, but now every Packers touchdown or field goal means a free shot of Mogen David wine.

The business is along a snowmobile trail and, in warmer months, it’s a regular stop for motorcyclists who favor the rolling hills and endless curves of the Mill Creek Valley.

“It’s so peaceful here,” said Hubbard’s wife, Cindy, 52, who grew up in Barneveld. “It’s mainly a place to socialize.”

Despite its size, Hyde has been a popular draw for history buffs. The area was settled by William Hyde, who built a mill in 1850. It burned in the 1870s but was rebuilt and is now a prime scene for photographers, who try to catch just the right light regardless of the time of the year.

The Sawle family has owned the mill since 1931 but is now trying to sell the property. The first $299,000 gets the wooden mill house, its idle wheel, eight acres of land and a hydroelectric plant that generates up to $300 worth of electricity a month.

“We had a pretty good showing a couple of weeks ago,” said Janet Reeson, one of the members of the family trust that owns the property. “Most (of the potential buyers) are from out of state.”

The neighborhood also includes the Hyde Chapel built in 1862, a cheese factory building from 1891 and a restored blacksmith shop constructed in 1883. The stone building was moved a few years ago to an old stagecoach stop at the Ruggles farm, from the Dick Keene farm, to expand Highway H. The shop was originally built for Tom Jones Sr., the blacksmith at Hyde’s Mill after the Civil War.

The store is from the same era. The Hubbards don’t know the precise year of construction, but they’re committed to making sure it remains viable. Cindy works at Lands’ End in Dodgeville while LeRoy has his own masonry business. The store, open 365 days a year, breaks even but is staffed primarily by family members, including Cindy’s 74-year-old mother, Bev Dyreson, who works one day a week.

“I retired from Lands’ End and I had to have something to do,” Dyreson said.

What adds to the draw of the store is that it’s surrounded by public hunting land filled with turkey, squirrels and deer. Just last week, LeRoy Hubbard helped a local bow hunter drag an 11-point buck shot within a few hundred yards of the store. The location, less than an hour’s drive from Madison, also makes it a convenient, yet remote, place to hunt without investing in hours of driving.

“Hopefully our kids will want to take it over someday,” said Cindy Hubbard. “It’s like our second home.”

Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at badams@madison.com.

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