City Market opened in 1886, establishing a tradition of selling meat and produce in an open space. It quickly became a popular gathering and shopping place in the city. At the time, the market adjoined Tomlinson Hall, a massive entertainment and sporting venue. Tomlinson Hall was four stories and could accommodate 3,800 people. Both the building and the market were the result of a gift from Stephen Tomlinson, who bequeathed his entire estate to the city for the construction of a market and a community building.
In 1958, Tomlinson Hall was destroyed by a fire. The fire itself is the stuff of legend: it was believed to be the work of a pigeon carrying a lit cigarette and firefighters reportedly used so much water in fighting the blaze that it pooled in the streets and created a massive frozen lake. Months later, what was left of the Tomlinson building was demolished.
Not all of Tomlinson Hall was destroyed, however. Its basement, which consists of 140 limestone columnns that form a 20,000 square foot series of tunnels underneath the city, survived. Referred to as the catacombs, the tunnels underneath City Market have never been used for burials, as was the case with the famous Parisian catacombs. Their original purpose has been lost over the years, although they've been used at times as a shelter for the homeless and as a firing range for police. Although some of the columnns are crumbling, the Indianapolis catacombs are among the best preserved in the world. They are among only a dozen or so catacombs in the United States.
Over the years, City Market has been used for numerous special events. The market was among a handful of official sites for visitors in the 2012 Super Bowl. The market is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.