News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 5, 2013

Efforts under way to renovate interurban depot in Shelburn

Building served many functions after trolleys stopped running in 1930s

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

SHELBURN — Early in the 20th Century, the interurban depot in Shelburn was a busy destination for travelers going to and from the then-booming Sullivan County mining town.

Today, the old depot on Mill Street is barely an echo of its former self. Bricks are missing from its walls, windows and doors are boarded over and birds fly in and out of big gaps in the roof.

At best, you could call the old building a “fixer-upper,” and that’s just what the town of Shelburn has in mind.

Thanks to a grant from Indiana Landmarks, which works to preserve Hoosier historic places, and lots of legwork by the West Central Indiana Economic Development District (WCIEDD), thousands of dollars have already gone into studying the possibility of renovating the old building. Those studies, including two environmental reviews, have gone well and now the town hopes to transform the depot into a meeting and reception hall with permanent historic displays.

“It’s a historic building,” said Jim Ward, president of the Shelburn Town Board. Ward was born nearly 80 years ago just a few blocks from the depot and knows the importance it has played in the community. During the Great Depression, Ward recalled people standing in line for bread at the depot building. He also remembers concerts taking place there. “It has a lot of historical meaning to this town,” he said.

After the trolleys stopped running in the early 1930s, the building would serve many other functions, Ward said. It was an American Legion Post, a restaurant, a bus station, a manufacturing plant and more, he said.

Jim Coffenberry, an economic development specialist at WCIEDD, who has family roots in Shelburn, recognized the historic value of the old building and asked Indiana Landmarks to consider providing money for a professional study to determine whether it could be saved. Tommy Kleckner, director of the western regional office of Indiana Landmarks, visited the site as did a Landmarks preservationist. The result was the building was deemed eligible for historic status based on its unique design.

“I’ve not seen another design like it in this area,” Kleckner said. The depot contained a ticket purchasing area and lobby. It also had a large, attached, building housing the interurban’s electric generator, he said, adding that only two other towns in the state, Amo and Plainfield, have interurban depots with similar designs.

Last year, Indiana Landmarks provided $2,480 to pay for a feasibility study of the site, which was conducted by Christine Matheu, a Bloomington-based architecture firm. That study found the building could be saved and put to good use. As a result, the town is now seeking an approximately $15,000 state grant to pay for the lion’s share of a formal renovation plan.

“It will be such a neat place for the community,” said Kristy Jerrell, grant administrator for WCIEDD, adding she is confident the town will receive its next state grant for a formal renovation plan. If all goes well, the people of Shelburn could see work begin at the site in 2014, she added.

“They don’t build them like that anymore,” Jerrell said of the old depot. “That’s why it’s so important to preserve these historic structures.”

Interurbans such as the one in Shelburn were a huge part of everyday life in the first 30 years of the last century, said Mike McCormick, Vigo County Historian. There was even a semi-professional baseball league known as the Interurban League featuring teams from the many Wabash Valley towns, such as Terre Haute, Clinton, Sullivan, Paris, and Brazil, connected by the electric trolley system, he said.

“Interurbans were a primary means of transportation,” McCormick said. “They were very important.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.