One definition of “romantic” is “visionary,” which also defines LaPorte farmer James Hyde. When he retired from working land he loved, he chose to share its natural beauty with people who’d enjoyed its bounty for decades.
Hyde was born in December 1921 in Fort Collins. In 1934, his mother Louise bought 40 acres from the John Nugent Estate. She, her brother Richard Dunlap and young Jimmy diligently coaxed myriad crops from that soil. From 1938 to 1943, strawberries and raspberries were king of the hill. In the next decade, the prolific farm yielded celery, cabbage, sweet corn, peppers and slicing cucumbers. Pumpkins, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli and the main crop, Hubbard squash, joined the cabbages, corn and peppers beginning in 1953.
And soon, another newcomer would come to the farm to stay.
Hyde’s great-aunt in Boulder, Nellie Bird, knew a young gal who could really play the piano and Jimmy was a marvelous — and single — singer with perfect pitch. Motivated by matchmaking, and incredibly accurate instincts, great-aunt Nellie introduced the musical pair one day in 1954. Jimmy immediately told family members, “I just met the greatest woman on earth!”
Margaret Maxwell, 10 years Hyde’s junior, obviously felt the same about him because the couple married in December 1955. They built their new home on the LaPorte farm.
Margaret worked as a registered nurse, primarily at the Beebe Clinic in Fort Collins, from 1955 to 1974. Mornings, evenings and after leaving the nursing profession, she worked alongside her husband. They added an acre of asparagus to the inventory from 1955 to 1960, selling their mixed vegetables to local grocers King Soopers, Safeway, Steeles, Beavers Market and Millers Grocery in Denver.
Margaret described her husband as an incredibly hard worker, and obviously had a green thumb. One illustrious Hubbard squash specimen he grew topped the scale at 67 pounds to win the 1961 top prize for the largest in Larimer County.
But some produce is priceless. Although Halloween pumpkins were a Hyde Farm cash crop, he allowed children one free potential jack-o-lantern each could tote out of the field. Margaret recalled it delighted him, as determined kids proudly retrieved their chosen prizes.
“Jim just absolutely loved kids!” she recalled.
In the 1950s, the Hydes began hiring young field hands, feeding them and housing a few. Some stayed on through high school and college, to cover tuition. Margaret continues closely in touch with many of them and their families. But gradually, area youth began opting for student loans over farm work. In 1984, the Hydes decided they could no longer manage their acreage without help — it was time to retire.
Jim refused offers continually pouring in for his land on the south side of the Poudre River, wanting everyone to enjoy it. So, in October 1996, the Hydes sold that 20 acres, now known as Butterfly Woods, to the City of Fort Collins Natural Resource Department as preserved open space. A stone bench with an image of Jim Hyde on a tractor pulling a plow now sits along the river across from Lions Park on North Overland Trail.
Like piano music accompanies a singer, Margaret’s words on a plaque explain: “As you pass by, pause here, and enjoy the Poudre River and nature as we did through the years. James H. and Margaret M. Hyde, Hyde Vegetable Farm 1938-1984”
In September 1996, a month before his land sold, Jim died from cancer diagnosed just 10 days earlier. Margaret said he cheered others right to the end by singing to his nurses. The music stopped for Margaret, however, when Jim passed on. Although she still has lots and lots of sheet music, she said she’s not played the piano even once since his death.
“I never met anyone who could fill Jim’s shoes,” she said. “He was the love of my life.”
Jim Hyde adored his wife, cared deeply about others and cherished his land. Margaret still resides on half of their original farm, which had laid fallow since 1984.
Happily, several neighbors will soon be reclaiming 10 acres for grass hay production. And, atop a stone bench on adjacent open space, Jim Hyde’s rock-solid etched image watches over.