Freemen Dept. Store opened 130 years agoBy TERESA BLOUNT,
In the early years after its move westward toward the railroad, Union attracted another newcomer who brought his business with him. A.C. (Arch) Freeman moved his family from Collinsville. He had originally started with a small country store outside of Meridian and then moved to Collinsville in 1887 where he built a large business, Freeman Department Store.
He made the decision to move his family to Union in 1906. Once he arrived here, he bought a wooden store from Mr. Vance at 225 Main St., the northwest corner of Main and Pine.
In 1912, this building burned, and he immediately rebuilt a brick building, which is said to be the first brick building in Union. Henry Staton made the bricks, and the Gallaspy brothers built it. Later, he took in a partner, Bob Thomas, from near Sebastopol.
They began advertising their newly-established Freeman and Thomas Department Store, along with ads for Freeman Department Store, in the Union Appeal in 1921.
After Arch died in March 1928, his son Jim, who worked with him in the store, and Thomas built three new stores at 217-219 Main Street in June of that same year. In Marc
h 1936, they remodeled and enlarged the three stores into one and used it as Freeman and Thomas. By that time, the Freemans owned all the property from 217 to 225 Main Street.
In 1946, Bob Thomas died. Jim then bought out Thomas’ share of the business and changed the name back to Freeman Department Store. The newspaper announcement of the change stated that the new store would be cash only. However, they in turn made many people happy when the ad also announced, “Effective Saturday, March 23, 1946, all accounts and bills due the old firm of Freeman & Thomas are hereby cancelled.”
At that same time, Jim’s son Carleton opened Freeman’s Variety Store in the western third of the Freeman Department Store building. Jim’s Freeman Department Store then ope
rated until Nov. 1957 when he retired, and his son, Bobby, who had worked with him, left to become postmaster. Meanwhile, Carleton got the Ben Franklin franchise and opened the entire area for his Freeman’s Ben Franklin Variety Store.
In 1963, he sold the Ben Franklin when he moved to Peoples Bank of Union as president. The store remained open under the new ownership from Philadelphia until it finally closed in 1976.
The Freemans employed many friendly and reliable Union people to keep their stores operating smoothly. In Carleton’s variety stores, patrons could see Dot Rainer, Norma Jean Frazier Lowe, Mary Livingston and Gwen Staton. Each of the other stores had equally loyal employees who were interested in the success of the business and their town.
Here are the questions for this week:
• Do you know other employees who worked in any of the Freemans’ stores?
• Do you know of any businesses that were located in the building after 1976?