Dude rose from orphan to mayor
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Dude rose from orphan to mayor | Dude Northcutt

Dude Northcutt
By DAN WHITTLE/ Courier Correspondent

WOODBURY - From candles, to kerosene lamps to first flickering electric lights to a new century has been the journey of Nolan "Dude" Northcutt.

At age 98, Mr. Northcutt recalls leaving the horse-powered wag-ons and buggies-era to when electricity was first brought into Woodbury homes and businesses.

"Being 2013, it's almost been a century now since electricity was brought into Woodbury," noted Mr. Northcutt, who will celebrate his 99th birthday on March 20. "I've seen the Stone's River flood the town…I've seen (the late) Sol  Berger bring garment manufacturing to Woodbury, creating more than 2,000 jobs…I've seen great 'town baseball teams' from Woodbury and all surrounding communities."

He recalls when Woodbury was brought into the bright lights of modern America.

"I've seen a lot, but the biggest change that touched virtually every citizen, and every business, was the arrival of electricity back in 1925," shared the man as his memory flickered agilely back to another century. "The electricity came from a generator down at Frank Hoover's Mill, located about two miles southeast of Woodbury city limits.

"There was no bigger step of progress for our town than the arrival of electricity," Mr. Northcutt noted. "I recall seeing the first power lines and poles being erected up and down the streets."

He paused for a moment, before sharing the following with a smile: "I also recall that at 9 o'clock sharp each night, when our new electric lights would blink off and on three times, you best be prepared to go to bed, for that was when the electrical power was cut off from the generator down at Hoover's Mill."

Many present-day residents don't know it, but the Readyville community had electrical power in their homes several years before Murfreesboro and Wood-bury.

Readyville's early electricity was supplied by the Readyville Mill that still stands today.

The "telephone" was another huge progressive step for mankind, Mr. Northcutt noted.

"Our first phones were on party lines with four or more families, and that was before we had telephone 'numbers'," Mr. Northcutt added. "We would pick up the phone, crank for the operator, and she would tell us whether or not the party we were calling was at a home or not."

He and Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick recalls thousands of jobs at the now dormant garment industry when Woodbury was jokingly known as a "go get her" community.

"That's when the men folk would pull up to the garment factories, to pick up their wives after a day's work," confirmed Mayor Patrick. "Since many of the ladies didn't drive, the men would pick them up, and became known as 'go get hers'."

Mr. Northcutt is noted "as a self-made successful man," rising from being an orphan, after losing his father, Lee Northcutt, to "lint lung disease" from working in cotton gins down in Alabama.

"And when Mother (Angie Jennings Northcutt) died in the 1918 influenza outbreak, I was brought to live in Woodbury at age 12," he shared. "I grew up in the home of S.M. Jennings, who had the Jennings Motor Company dealership. They helped raise me in a good home after I lost both parents."

S.M. Jennings was a brother to Mr. Northcutt's mother.

It was in the 1930s he acquired the nickname "Dude."

"It was along the time I had a 1925 Model T Ford coupe, that I drove around Woodbury, that had a spare tire mounted on the back," Mr. Northcutt's memory motored nimbly back through time. "I got the nickname "Dude" in that era, when on the back tire, I had 'the Mayflower" painted on as a sign. I guess that helped get me the nickname of Dude."

In his early twenties, he became one of Woodbury's youngest business owners.

"I was trying to buy the 'Sudden Service Station' formerly owned by Sam Blanks and Jimmy Roberts," Mr. Northcutt detailed. "Because I was so young, the owner wanted someone older to go on the $1,000 note (purchase price) with me. I'll never forget Mr. John Boyle Gribble, who signed for half of the note.

 "We opened Northcutt & Gribble Service Station in January, 1937, where Rite Aid Drugs now stands…by May, I paid the $500 off to John Boyle Gribble," he accounted. "Within a year, I was able to pay Hoyt Bryson off for the loan he'd made to me for my part of the $500…"

Mr. Northcutt married "childhood sweetheart" Annie Lefever in 1934.

"I only got a fifth grade education. But Annie and I had been sweet hearts since we were about 14 or 15…she was a good basketball player at old Central High School, and I went to all her games.

"We eloped when we were both age 20," Mr. Northcutt recalled. "We slipped off to Franklin, Ky., where we tied the knot. We drove our 1929 Chevrolet to get married across the state line, where we had a mint julep (drink) in celebration of our marriage."

They were wed 61-plus years when he lost "sweetheart Annie" in 1995.

"We've attended Woodbury Church of Christ for 50 years," he added.

At age 98, Mr. Northcutt still mows his own lawn and drives himself to Woodbury Lions Club meetings.

"I've been in the Lion's Club for 64 years," the civic-minded man verified.

From being orphaned as a boy, with only a fifth grade education, to a young businessman, Mr. Northcutt ascended to his community's loftiest elected offices.

"Dude Northcutt is a true community servant, having served so long in the Lions Club," noted Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick. "He was also elected as the mayor of Woodbury, to the Cannon County School Board and was elected Cannon County Executive. He's the consummate community-spirited man, dedicated to his family, his church, his Lions Club. No man has been more important to Woodbury than Dude Northcutt."

Ironically, it was Patrick who defeated Mr. Northcutt as country executive in 1986.

"Harold Patrick retired me from public office," he shared with a wry smile.
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