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Giving New Life
to Historic 501 Union

by Audrey Hanes, Photography by Melissa Donner

When Lance and Georgia Ramthun and Ray and Deana Osment teamed up to be a part of the continued revitalization of Downtown Jonesboro, they took on historic 501 Union, an architectural gem that now serves as an updated and preserved home to several local businesses.

A Historic Downtown Building
The stately 9,000-square-foot building located at 501 Union was completed in 1912 and was built with native Arkansas limestone – known as Batesville marble – from a quarry in Batesville. The Bank of Jonesboro, also known as “That Strong Bank,” had occupied an older building at the same address for 25 years; in 1911, they decided to raze the original building and rebuild an impressive structure that was intended to be a scaled-down version of the Greek-inspired banks of St. Louis.

Following the Depression and the downfall of The Bank of Jonesboro, Horace and Eugene Sloan, along with several other investors, purchased the building and started Peoples Bank, where Eugene served as manager and Horace maintained a law office upstairs. Horace’s descendants owned the real estate subject to a 99-year lease. Several other banks and businesses went on to call 501 Union home over the next several decades, including First National Bank and Le Banque restaurant. It eventually became the 501 Club, the predecessor to Jonesboro’s current 501 Club. When the former restaurant went bankrupt, the building remained empty for many years and the 99-year lease fell into default. Without the lease, the building was marketable to sell.

In 1985, Charles, Rebecca, John and Lee Ann Sloan decided to purchase the historic site from Horace Sloan’s heirs and return it to its former glory, Charles and John being two of Eugene’s grandsons. Charles and Rebecca were both passionate about history and preservation and were members of the Craighead County Historical Society. They cultivated most of the restoration work, including removing a 1950s-era front entrance and replacing it with a mahogany reproduction of the original front doorway.

After restoring 501 Union, Charles and Rebecca set up their Sloan and Sloan law offices on the top floor, which shared a reception area and conference room with John’s E. Sloan Farms office. Other tenants at the time were another law office, an investment firm, the Craighead County Law Library and a gun collector who rented one of the bank vaults to store his valuable collection.

“We loved that building, we really did,” said Lee Ann, John’s wife. “It meant so much to us and to our family. It is really special.”

A New Chapter
Thirty-five years later, the Ramthuns and Osments were on the hunt for a property downtown that would serve their need for an office space, and soon after Georgia saw the “For Sale” sign go up at 501 Union, the new business partners knew it was exactly what they were looking for.

“Right from the start, we all loved it,” said Deana. “The Sloans were so passionate about the history of the building, and it was just contagious. We looked at other properties, but there was no other option for me; this was it.”

“We walked through it, and it needed a lot of work for what we wanted, but we all four knew it was what we were looking for,” added Georgia. “It’s an iconic Jonesboro building, and the timing was perfect. It’s such a good fit.”

The two couples had originally started looking for a secondary office space after realizing that Ray and Lance, who had coffee together every weekday morning downtown at The Recovery Room, both wanted an additional office that was a bit quieter than their business locations. Deana and Georgia, who were each helping their husbands with various aspects of their businesses, were working from home and also wanted office space. Since their needs were so similar, they realized they could all go in on an office building together, which they called The Union Group.

“We were all playing similar roles, and it meshed really well for us to work together to go in somewhere,” said Georgia.

“Our main business is agriculture consulting,” said Lance, who owns Crop Solutions. “However, I spend the off-season investing in and developing software. This building is primarily an investment in downtown, while simultaneously giving Georgia and me separation of the businesses.”

The Osments needed that additional office space for their property development projects. Ray, who is a partner in several different businesses, needed a space for meetings and to be able to work without any distractions.

“We are currently building three projects; the final phase of The Reserve at Sage Meadows, a four-story Class A apartment building in downtown Bentonville and a 55-plus community in Gravette; I have different partners in all of those deals,” said Ray. “We are working on a location for a multi-story apartment building for Downtown Jonesboro that would target empty nesters and young professionals, but we haven’t been able to nail anything down at this point.”

They closed on 501 Union in January of 2020 and immediately started renovating the top floor, which would be used for their own offices under the umbrella of The Union Group. Just 60 days later, the top floor and their four offices were ready, but they took the next year to finish the rest of the building in phases.

“When it came to renovating, we were working with a lot of exposed brick, and we found more brick when we removed paneling during the renovation process,” said Georgia. “When we sat down, we were all on the same page.”

They stayed true to the original design and craftsmanship of the historic property while incorporating modern design trends and updated décor.

“We each did our own offices, and now that they’re done, they all go really well together,” said Deana. “We went for easy and simple, and Georgia and I were just glad to be out of the house.”

And although there were a few things that came up during the renovation process, such as realizing there were missing windows on the lower level from when an exterior sidewalk was redone, the new owners say it was a relatively easy process.

“For the age of the building, it’s in great shape, and I think that goes back to the previous owners,” said Georgia. “The Sloans had owned it for 70 years; it’s a testament to the owners taking care of it and to how things were built back then.”

Also on the second floor is Benton Smith Law Firm. Next up was the mezzanine area, which was completed quickly, as well, and it soon became the office of Brian King, who needed an office for his CPA firm. Little & Associates, the oldest operating architectural firm in Jonesboro, has been in the 501 Union building since 2003; they also took the opportunity to renovate their office, which takes up the first floor of the historic building.

At that point, the only space left was the basement, and Deana’s dad suggested Shadrach’s for the space.

“From the beginning, we had the idea of wanting something retail or service related in the building – it has such a cool vibe downstairs,” said Georgia. “We are so excited that Shadrach’s came on board. Having them here and having all of the people come in and out allows us to be more a part of the community than if it were just our offices.”

The coffee shop’s first non-drive thru location is home to a large walk-in vault, one of 501 Union’s four vaults, which remain from the building’s original construction. A large “bomb vault” is also located in the office of Little & Associates, and two small vaults have been repurposed into filing closets in the second-floor offices of Lance and Deana.

“It was a personal attachment for me,” said Deana, who worked in banking for many years. “The vaults are fun, and I think it’s great to restore a piece of history and bring it back to life again. … I retired from banking in 2019, so it’s pretty special that I have that bank connection with the vaults. Back when I was working at Bank of America, I went to work for Wallace Fowler, and they worked out of this building, so I have actually worked out of this building before. It’s like coming full circle.”

For the Love of Downtown
When the members of The Union Group all came together with the idea of finding office space together, they only looked in Downtown Jonesboro. They knew from the start that they wanted to play a role in the continued revitalization of the heart of the city.

“You can’t get this new – the history, the craftsmanship – and we obviously have a love for it; we recently bought a house downtown that was built the same year, so it feels like home to us,” said Georgia. “It makes us proud to be contributing that to our town.”

Lance and Georgia have long been passionate about downtown since first living in the area while they were students at Arkansas State University.

“While attending ASU, we lived on Vine and Washington, and I would pass this building every day on the way to class,” said Lance, who was born in Hoxie and grew up coming to Jonesboro often. “It served as a source of inspiration in what could become, given hard work and sacrifice – in how the building was created and what it stood for over the years.”

Georgia says that while Downtown Jonesboro back then was very different from the vibrant, growing community it is today, they always felt a connection to the area and really loved living there at the time. After marrying and building a house south of Jonesboro for their growing family, where they lived for 10 years, they made the decision to send their boys to the Jonesboro School District and started looking for homes in the area.

“We always knew we wanted to be back closer to town, and we were pleasantly surprised and blessed with the opportunity to purchase one of Jonesboro’s historic homes downtown in the fall of 2019,” said Georgia. “… Downtown has provided so many opportunities for us and for our children that are only possible in this area. We bike for lunch and dinners and feel more a part of a community than we ever did in a traditional neighborhood.

“That same fall, the opportunity presented itself to purchase, once again, one of Jonesboro’s historic landmarks, the 501 Union building. We have fully immersed ourselves in downtown, and in return, it has provided us with a complete sense of comfort, home and belonging that I truly don’t believe we would find anywhere other than downtown. … Once you’re here, you get a bug for it. You want to do more.”

The Osments felt a strong pull to be downtown, as well. They wanted their office location to be more of an experience, and they knew they would find that sense of community in Downtown Jonesboro.

“Ray and I both have admired and respected a lot of the people who have stepped up to make Downtown Jonesboro better, people who have supported it and gotten it going, and we felt like that this was a way we could play a small part in that,” said Deana. “We love Jonesboro and want it to be the best it can be, and downtown is such a big part of that.”

They felt that if they could renovate a piece of downtown and be a part of everyone putting their heart and soul into the community, they would make it happen.

“It’s contagious, and we wanted to be a part of it,” said Deana.

For Ray, the history of 501 Union was one of the most important parts of the project.

“I love everything about the building,” he said. “I’ve heard people say that they felt a responsibility to leave a historic property better than they found it, and that’s how we feel about this. It’s cool to think about what has happened over the years in and around this building.”

He, too, had childhood memories of the area that made it all the more appealing for the site of their newfound business.

“My grandfather had an insurance agency at 316 South Church Street for years, and as a kid, he would send me to the post office, Chucks, The Griddle, Vowels, Mercantile Bank and on other errands, so walking around downtown brings back a lot of good memories,” said Ray.

As Downtown Jonesboro continues to grow, and The Union Group with it, the Osments and Ramthuns have fully immersed themselves in the vibrant community and all that comes with it.

“I love the fact that Jonesboro is finally becoming one of those cities where you can walk and bike places and be out in the community,” said Georgia. “It’s what most downtowns provide, and it makes you more a part of it. My boys love that they can ride their bikes on a sidewalk. For us, we do so much downtown. Everything we do is in a 3-mile radius – school, work, church, tennis, etc. It’s a vibe, and we love it.”

Shadrach’s Downtown
The Underground

Jonesboro is full of coffee-lovers, and many of them love their Shadrach’s coffee. Much to their surprise and joy, the beloved coffee shop opened its sixth location in Downtown Jonesboro on April 5, and unlike the other Shadrach’s and their drive-thru setups, “The Underground” location is sit-down only.

“I really had no intentions of doing a sit-down only location, but after a couple of conversations with one of the building’s owners, Ray Osment, and Jim Little, my architect that happens to be on the first floor of 501 Union, they immediately had an idea of what it needed to be, so we just ran with it,” said Shadrach’s owner Larry Billing. “I saw this as an opportunity to do something really cool and different than a conventional sit down.

“You can build a shop to look old, but nothing beats the look and feel of real history. Learning about the rich history of the building while looking at the existing underground structure, with the exposed beams, bricks and side entrance building, stirred so much excitement. I’ve looked for opportunities over the years to be downtown, but nothing truly piqued my interest until then.”

Billing says that one of the major challenges was the timing of opening a sit-down coffee shop in the middle of a pandemic. Over the course of a year of planning and building, they waited for the right moment and opened just as many people began feeling comfortable eating and drinking in indoor settings.

“People are loving it,” said Billing. “Everyone is shocked when they enter a small black building. They come down the stairs and see such a big space. We have study groups and business meetings taking place daily. People are thankful that we are close to their work and they can just walk on over.”

The coffee shop owner says that sharing the building’s rich history with the community was a big draw, as well.

“You have a piece of history staring you in the face asking to be known again,” said Billing. “For many years ‘the underground’ has been dormant and in the dark. I’m thankful to both Jim and Ray for making it easy to do something like this. I’m thankful for Jim’s creativity and the support and flexibility of the owners.”

The finished location has 700 square feet of seating and can seat about 30 people.

“It is very exciting being part of downtown,” he said. “Downtown carries a creative energy that can’t be duplicated; it’s satisfying to be part of that. It’s rewarding to be part of an area of town that continues to grow and locally branch out. People come to the shop on their bikes, boards or just walk. We are used to customers sitting in a car; however, now they are able to walk from work and come relax for a few minutes to escape. … It’s also been great to interact with many of our existing customers in an environment that’s easier to engage in longer conversations.”

Billing says that they have many more creative and unique plans in store for their customers that will unfold in the near future.
The entrance to Shadrach’s Coffee’s downtown location is located to the left of the 501 Union building. For more information, find Shadrach’s Coffee on Facebook or call (870) 926-4835.