Before the automobile, passengers boarded "the interurban" at 16 S. High St. in Canal Winchester for a shopping trip to Columbus or a visit with relatives in Lancaster.

Residents could buy a ticket and ride south to Lancaster or north to Columbus or to the Obetz Junction, which transported passengers as far south as Chillicothe.

The Canal Winchester interurban station still stands today, but it now serves a much different purpose as a public meeting area after a lengthy renovation project.

Tours of the former depot have been offered during Canal Winchester's free summer concert series, Music & Art in the Park; the third and final one is scheduled from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, July 21.

"It's our history that distinguishes one community from another, and it's beautiful," Canal Winchester Historical Society President Sean Cleary said of the refurbished interurban building.

"Unfortunately, many in our community haven't been in it. (The interurban) was the principal form of transportation, and it was bustling with activity back in the day."

By World War I, Ohio was the national leader in interurban service with nearly 3,000 miles of track connecting communities throughout the state.

Frank Davis, a New York lawyer, and his Scioto Valley Traction Co. developed the rail system that reached speeds of 60 mph and was powered by 600 volts of electricity.

The company eventually became South Central Power Co., an electric cooperative that serves more than 110,000 customers in 24 Ohio counties.

The advent of the automobile, improved roads and the Great Depression led to the end of the interurban in the 1930s.

South Central Power used the Canal Winchester interurban station as a warehouse before selling it to the city in 2003.

Over the years, the city stabilized the building, investing in a new roof, updating the utilities and improving the structure's appearance. Volunteers blasted away stucco to reveal the brick exterior.

Work on the interior of the 1,300-square-foot building was completed late last year by J.S. Brown & Co. for $158,600. The space includes a modular conference room with seating for about 25 people.

The renovation work, which was slowed by the 2008 economic recession, was funded through donations, grants and city funds totaling about $250,000.

"The building has been modernized, but it was done in such a way to capture the feel of the early 20th century, with high ceilings and the original wooden floor," Canal Winchester City Councilman Bruce Jarvis said. "The furnishings were the result of a grant and a donation and Amish-made."

Jarvis' ties to the renovation project go back to his time as director of Main Street Canal Winchester, which eventually became Destination: Canal Winchester.

"If the city had not done something with (the building), I don't think it would be around today," Jarvis said.

In 2010, city leaders and others unveiled an Ohio Historical Marker commemorating the Interurban Depot in Canal Winchester. The Canal Winchester Historical Society plans to include the depot as a stop on its annual ghost tour in October.

"We're very fortunate to have buildings of this nature that we can reference and cherish and honor," Cleary said.