Blaze triggers memories

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Dude Northcutt

By DAN WHITTLE, Courier Correspondent
Nolan "Dude" Northcutt remembers the "bucket brigades" before there were fire trucks and organized fire-fighting teams to protect historic Woodbury Square.

"Those early fire-fighters got their water out of the river, and literally, formed a line, and handed bucket-by-bucket up the line from Stone's River up to the business that was in flames on the Square," noted Mr. Northcutt from the 1920-30's era.

At age 99, former Cannon County Executive Northcutt recalls 1936, when the first Woodbury Volunteer Fire Department was formed. That volunteer fire department still helps protect the Square.

"I'm still a certified fire-fighter," noted Mr. Northcutt. "I'm the only one living from that original group. I want to go help, but can't do it now at my age."

The late Selmar Jennings served as first "chief" of the new department.

"I was assistant fire chief," the man with the remarkable memory described, easily slipping back to another century before Woodbury had fire trucks and equipment to protect Woodbury Square. "Since I lived with a rock's throw of the first fire station, most of time, I drove the fire truck. But, whoever got to the station first, he was the driver and got the truck ready to roll.

The late Walter "Cap" McCrary was mayor of Woodbury in that era.

"When the alarm was sounded, the volunteers responded as fast as they could to catch up with the truck," Mr. Northcutt described. "That first fire engine was stationed where the Woodbury Water System building is located today."

Mr. Northcutt said his soul and body ached to go "back in service" the recent night of Nov. 1, the date fire destroyed two businesses - two consignment shops named Hope & Faith and Off the Hangar - and damaged two other businesses on the south side of Woodbury Square … plus, threatened other nearby businesses.

"Certainly, my heart went out to the business owners, their employees as well as the fire fighters and volunteers who rallied to help save our beautiful and historic Square," Mr. Northcutt accounted. "It's dangerous work, fighting a fire."

If there was a positive to the latest fire on Woodbury Square, it's that government leaders, headed by Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick, have started the process of securing a ladder truck to be permanently stationed in Woodbury.

"When we got ladder trucks in from Walter Hill (Rutherford County) Volunteer Fire Department and Manchester, it made all the difference in the world," Mayor Patrick noted. "We asked our state and federal law makers to find us help in paying for a modern ladder truck, because when shooting down on the inferno, it makes all the difference in the world."

The mayor praised the volunteer firefighters.

"They saved the day, again," the mayor credited. "And this time, we asked for two volunteers to stay with the fire scene two additional nights, in case hot spots blazed up like they did two years ago when we lost the barbecue place on the west side of the Square."

Mr. Northcutt, who will be 100 next March 20, came to Woodbury as an orphan at age 12. From assistant fire chief, he rose through the ranks as fire chief, then mayor of Woodbury and ultimately as Cannon County Executive.
For purposes of this forum, Northcutt helped describe some of the historic businesses surrounding Cannon County's pristine Courthouse that anchors Woodbury Square.

"We treasure our Square … when one of us hurts, we all hurt," Northcutt added. "Woodbury has always been that way."

Before there was Jennings Motors (Chevrolet dealership), there was "Jennings Garage."

"But before locating up on the Square as Jennings Motors, a sub-dealership under Jackson Brothers Motors in Murfreesboro, Jennings Garage was located in an old barn building down beside the river," Mr. Northcutt cut his swath back through time. "Jennings Motors moved to the Square around 1920, ultimately becoming one of the most well-known businesses on our Square."

Two other historic businesses that became regionally-impactful in the early 1900s were the Bank of Commerce, located on the Square where old Woodbury City Hall was located, and Cannon Bank, located on the east side of the Square.

"I went to one of the banks, applying for a $500 loan, to start my first business in 1937, and the bank teller refused me the loan, since my only collateral was a milk cow, a wife and infant child," Mr. Northcutt accounted. "As it turned out, an individual who worked at the Courthouse, loaned me the money to go into business, as Sudden Service Station, located just two blocks off the Square. I paid off that loan within the time frame allotted."

He spoke of the Square's present-day oldest business.

"The Cannon Courier newspaper was located on the north side of the Square, where it's located today," Mr. Northcutt recalled. "The newspaper has been located at various places, since it started back in the 1860s, on or near the Square."

Almost "centenarian" Northcutt remembers multiple groceries and businesses that lined the Square from the 1920s on up to the present.

"J.C. Bryson had a grocery, and Mel Bryson had the Courier, and printed the weekly editions in the basement of the building where the present-day Courier is located," Mr. Northcutt threaded back across the decades.

"I remember driving around the Square in my first car, a T-Model Ford coupe I named the 'Mayflower,'" he added. "I remember George Roach having a grocery and restaurant on the Square. Ed Lennon probably had the first big grocery, located on the north side of the Square, on the corner next to the Old Cannon Jail.

"J.L. Northcutt (no relation) also had a grocery business on the Square," Mr. Northcutt shared. "Lawton Bragg was another grocery merchant on the Square."

(Writer's Note: Part 2 of Woodbury Square will detail other historic businesses that have flourished in the shadow of Cannon County's Courthouse).

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