In the 1940s, Jim Ward remembers eating at a restaurant inside the former Terre Haute Indianapolis and Eastern Traction Company Interurban Depot in Shelburn.
The historic 107-year-old depot once was a destination for travelers to and from the town and a primary source of transportation in the early 20th Century.
Now Ward, president of the Shelburn Town Board, said he is looking forward to transforming the depot back into a restaurant — which will become the only restaurant in the town of more than 1,200 residents.
“This will be important to the town. It will revitalize some things. If people see that, hopefully they will want to do something additionally themselves. We have no restaurants. You either go to Sullivan or go to Terre Haute,” Ward said.
Late last month, the town held a pre-bid meeting, allowing contractors a chance to see the inside of the building, which has already undergone an extensive exterior restoration. Those contractors will be bidding on interior masonry restoration, carpentry, electrical, structural steel, plumbing and sanitary sewer work.
“We want to try to keep it as original as we can, with historic lighting,” Ward said. Plan options include constructing a mezzanine floor, which can hold about 100 people and plans call for a separate bar area.
The town, which owns the depot, will open bids from those contractors at 2 p.m. on July 13 at the Shelburn Community Center.
If there are no bid concerns, work can start later this month, with the project slated for completion in late November.
Ward wants to hold a public open house to showcase its completion on Nov. 23, “if all goes to plan,” he said.
Ward, 86, remembers Shelburn when the town’s main roads included U.S. 41. It had several grocery stores, clothing stores, a drug store, taverns and several restaurants such as the Green Banana and Cozy Corner. Ward said his mother had owned two restaurants — the White Hut and Annie’s Cafe — in Shelburn.
Two things, Ward said, caused Shelburn to turn into a sleepy town. First was a devastating tornado in May 1949 that demolished much of the town, including damaging its high school. The second was the relocation of U.S. 41, which moved the highway around the town.
The former rail depot is located on Mill Street, next to CSX Transportation railroad tracks, just west of the intersection with Railroad Street. It was built about 1911 and enlarged between 1916 and 1920.
In the 1920s, Indiana boasted the most comprehensive statewide interurban system in the United States, according to Indiana Landmarks. Networks of electric light rail tracks connected cities and towns previously reachable only by horse-drawn carriages and wagons. The interurban system thrived until growing competition from automobiles and trucks led to its demise, according to Indiana Landmarks.
When interurban rail service stopped in the 1930s, the Shelburn depot underwent varied uses in addition to a restaurant, such as an American Legion Post and a bus station.
Restoring the depot has been years in the making.
The town has spent about $525,000 restoring the exterior of the building, said Jim Coffenberry, economic specialists with West Central Indiana Economic Development District. The town was initially able to assume ownership of the depot, which was donated to the town, after environmental studies, funded through brownfield grants, were conducted, Coffenberry said.
In 2012, the town received a grant from Indiana Landmarks for a feasibility study for the depot, Coffenberry said. The town then received a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs for a formal renovation plan for commercial or retail use. The depot in December 2015 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and underwent its exterior renovation in 2016/2017. The town is using its portion of a county local income tax to pay for the restoration, Coffenberry said.
Incidentially, Coffenberry, who has family roots in Shelburn, discovered his great uncle actually owned the depot during different times in its past.
“The town already has a three-way liquor license for a restaurant with a bar. They are serious about this project,” Coffenberry said.