SHELBURN -- Town officials are hoping a completed rehabilitation of a former interurban train depot will get the town’s economy back on track.

“We are still going for a restaurant,” said Shelburn Clerk-Treasurer Jay Southwood, prior to a celebration and ribbon cutting Monday marking the completion of the project. “We haven’t been aggressive with marketing it yet. Today will we start that. We have a three-way alcohol license that is tied with the building and can go with a tenant.”

Brandon Knoepfle, founder of the Acorn Grill restaurant that opened in 2017 in Sullivan, was at the depot Monday, eyeing a space that would serve as a kitchen. While it is long and empty, it appeared not to be large enough for his interest.

“I think it is a wonderful looking building and has a lot of history to it,” Knoepfle said of the Shelburn Interurban Depot. “Somebody who has a creative mind and is willing to put in some hard work ... could really do a lot and have a lot of opportunity here in this space.

“We have really done some awesome stuff in Sullivan County, and I think someone could do that here as well,” Knoepfle said. “... There are tons of opportunity in small towns, you just kinda look a little deeper. The town is behind it and the area is behind it, so we will just wait and see.”

The Shelburn depot, owned by the town, is part of Indiana railroad history.

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.

The depot’s rehabilitation began in 2012, when the town received a grant from Indiana Landmarks for a feasibility study for the depot, that operated from 1906 to 1931.

That was followed with a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs for a formal renovation plan for commercial or retail use.

Then, in December 2015, the depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and underwent an exterior renovation in 2016-2017. Last year, Strode Construction LLC completed a $452,000 interior restoration.

The town has paid for the project through its portion of a local income tax.

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, a Republican who has represented Indiana’s Eighth Congressional District since 2011, joined Shelburn officials in their celebration Monday.

Bucshon said the restored depot can serve as a “nexus that can bring other buildings to be restored and bring people to the community...and hopefully will help rejuvenate this area of Shelburn,” he said. “That is why it is exciting to have a building like this restored.”

The depot, Bucshon said, would be a great place “for a steak house, an Italian restaurant or even a pizzeria.”

Southwood said because the town does not have zoning, officials have made efforts to maintain a commercial area near the depot. The town owns a nearby former bank property and this year closed on the purchase of what is locally known as the “green building,” just west of the Interurban Depot building.

The town also owns a grassy area across railroad tracks from the depot that town officials have future hopes of installing a splash park.

“We did this to try to improve the town of Shelburn. If we can get something like a restaurant started, other things might follow,” said Jim Ward, president of the Shelburn Town Board.

“We got a practically new water tower, new wastewater system and storm water system and started to clean up property, which can help bring people in here. That is what it's about. If you don’t do it, you don’t get it,” Ward said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.