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Inside Indy | Venture down into the City Market Catacombs

Indy's historic Catacombs have a surprise origin story behind their name.
City Market Catacombs
Posted at 7:26 PM, Sep 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-28 19:26:15-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A small brick wall is all that remains of Indianapolis’ Tomlinson Hall above ground. Below ground, it’s a much different story.

The Catacombs that lie beneath the west plaza of City Market once served as the basement of Tomlinson Hall. It was a structure designed by Diedrich Bohlen, the architect behind Indianapolis City Market.

Tomlinson Hall and City Market
Tomlinson Hall and City Market

“Tomlinson (Hall) and City Market were built together,” Indiana Landmarks' Kasey Zronek said. “They were designed to go together.”

The buildings stood together near the corner of Delaware and Market streets from 1886 until 1958, when a fire destroyed Tomlinson Hall.

The cause? Well, that’s still up for debate, according to Zronek.

Tomlinson Hall

“As far as we know, they never released an official cause,” Zronek said. “It actually frustrated the newspapers quite a bit, so they came up with a tongue-in-cheek response and printed that, just like Chicago had Mrs. O'Leary's cow, Indianapolis, had a pigeon. That pigeon must have picked up a lit cigarette and dropped it on top of the building.”

Tomlinson Hall was demolished, but not all was lost according to Zronek. Bricks from the structure were actually repurposed in the construction of new homes around the city. The building's foundation was also preserved.

A short-lived plan in the 1970s called for repurposing the basement into a restaurant. That’s actually where the "catacomb" name originated: The restaurant's planned concept and name was The Catacombs.

“The economic climate being what it was, it didn’t work out,” Zronek said.

Prior to the restaurant proposal, the Catacombs housed a shooting range. In the late 1990s, the catacombs were transformed into a haunted house, called "Creatures of the Catacombs."

1997: Creatures of the Catacombs

WRTV reporter Barbara Lewis gave viewers a preview of the space on Sept. 19, 1997.

“There have been a variety of proposals over the years, but for now, we're happy to give tours of it,” Zronek said. "My favorite part is getting to connect people with history."

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