Sadly, we are nearing the point that few living actually have firsthand accounts of this building before it burned and was bulldozed. Even if you are too young to remember doesn’t mean you should forget.  Read on. This place was unique, beloved, beautiful, and well utilized. Founded as a place for ALL to gather — irrespective of race, gender, faith or other beliefs — it was one of the city’s most significant meeting sites.


Tomlinson Hall, northeast corner Delaware & Market Streets

Tomlinson Hall was created by the last will of Stephen D. Tomlinson, who died on November 14, 1870. In his will appeared the following: “Item 2: The residue of my estate, which may remain after her (his wife’s) decease, whether the same be acquired by exchange or by purchase, I bequeath to the city of Indianapolis to be used in the erection of buildings for the use of citizens and city authorities (what are commonly termed ‘public buildings’) on the west end of the East market house fronting on Delaware Street and next north of Market street. And I further direct that there be no unnecessary delay in converting the property hereby bequeathed to the uses designated as I do not wish to endow the city with a property to be held indefinitely for rent. Item 3: Should it be that the city provides these public buildings before this devise shall come to it, I hereby authorize my beloved wife to direct the purpose to which the same may be applied.”

In April 1871, an agreement was reached between Mrs. Tomlinson and the City, which was to become legal owner of the property on condition of paying Mrs. Tomlinson an annuity of $7,000 per annum, as long as she should live. Construction of the building began in 1885, completed in the spring of 1886, designed by Dietrich Bohlen, contractor, George W. Stanley. Bohlen also designed City Market, Roberts Park Methodist Episcopal Church and the Morris-Butler House.

The dedication of the building took place on June 1, 1886, and was managed by the Grand Army. The festival featured a veteran actor of the time, James M. Murdock, who recited Sheridan’s Ride, “…as no other person ever did,” the newspaper said. The musical program included Lilli Lehman as principal soloist and Mrs. J. F. Frenzel, Mrs. H. Schurmann, Mrs. U.J. Hammond and other local artists of the day.

The seating capacity was 3,500, and the cost of the building including all its plumbing, heating, and infrastructure, was estimated at $137,500.

The beginning part of the paper’s report the following day mentions, among other things: ” various vendors of cheap refreshments did a thriving business,” and in describing the decor was reported: “there is no cheap tinsel or glittering decorations, no elaboartely draped proscenium boxes or carved columns, no frescoed walls nor bespangled ceilings, but everything is plain, unostentatious, but imposing. There is a picutresque contrast between the dark wood overhead and the gray plaster below it.”

The orchestra for the evening’s inauguration was drawn from musicians of both Indianapolis and Cincinnati and counted among them, “eight violins, eight second violins, six violas, six violincellos, six contrabasses, two flutes, two oboes, two clarionettes, two bassoons, four horns, two cornets, three trobones, one tuba and the drums”–numbering 55 in all. The director was Carl Barus. The first piece of music to be played in the building was Rossini’s overture to “Semiramide,” followed by Rhigini’s “The Lord is Great,” then “Stabat Mater,” by Pergolesi and then back to Rossini for “Inflammatus.” After a 30 minute intermission, the music continued with Rossini again, with the overture to “William Tell,” “Hear My Prayer,” by Mendelsson and “Tannhauser- Grand March,” by Wagner.

“The acoustic properties seem to be perfect. These, however, yet await the test of a full house. The lighting is ample, the ventiliation as perfect as can be. Yet there seemed to be about ten degrees difference in temperature between the main floor and the galleries. In warm weather the difference will be very marked. The audience was a ‘level best.’ Not the most brilliant the city affords, but inclcuding the solid citizens. There was little elaborate dressing. Here and there a man in a full dress suit looked delightfully cool and democratic in contrast with the prevailing type of high buttoned coats. The women were rather reckless as to head gear, and on a flat floor, this meant a total eclipse for many. There was a general spirit of satisfaction. In the hall there was manifest pride. Here, at last, was an assembly room that might challenge captious criticism. In the festival there was much satisfaction.”


View from approximately Alabama & Washington Streets looking northwest

The music was not only heard inside the building, but also: “Reserved seats on the stone court house fence were at a premium. Before the sun was out of sight, pre-emption began, and the first glare of the electric lights from the balcony of the city hall disclosed a row of squatters blackening the fence from the jail to the Delaware street corner…The pavement on both sides of Market street were covered with people, and on Delaware Street there was a blockade of carriages filled with listeners, flanked on the further walk with a dense mass of people. There was many a transaction in tobacco and jack-knives ‘on the curb’ pending the opening of the concert in the hall above. East of the city hall advantageous vantage ‘ground’ was to be had from the roof of the old market building, and here scores of venturesome lads and men were ensconced. No tom cat in all the glory of a midnight perch was ever treated to such a concert from his neighbors as these boys last night listened to. From their elevation they could look full into the faces of the audience in the gallery inside; the streaming light from the blazing corridors fell upon their upturned faces and every note from orchestra, choir or soloist ‘stole into their ears’ –at least they heard without money or without price. Perhaps at no time during the concert were the listeners on the streets, fences and housetops below fewer in number than one thousand, and the throng constantly changed with departures and fresh arrivals.”

Well known people of the day came to Indianapolis for the celebration, including a General John A. Logan (some credit him with being the founder of Memorial Day). Then a Senator, Benjamin Harrison met him at the depot, as Logan was to be a guest at the Harrison Home whilst in town overnight before the two gentlemen were to return to Washington, D.C.


Interior view from National Prohibition Convention–that’s a lot of teetotalers. Not many of those to be found these days… Be a dear and pass me a flask, will you?…

A total of 22 pieces of firefighting equipment were counted on the scene, including six aerial trucks fighting the 4-alarm blaze that swept through Tomlinson Hall on January 30, 1958. The first alarm sounded at 10:06 pm. “Tons of water poured on the fire flowed out into Market Street, turning it into an icy lake.”  On Tuesday, July 8, 1958, after much public outcry and attempts to keep the building from being razed, the wrecking ball was on the scene to destroy what was left, removing forever a beloved gathering place for all.


Who hasn’t pondered the arch that stands just west of the City Market, the last vestige of Tomlinson Hall, and exactly where it stood, and to whom this served as entryway to an evening’s entertainment, fellowship, celebration, or memorable occasion.


How lucky we are that City Market remains.
Next time you are in the little plaza on the northeast corner of Delaware and Market Streets, perhaps you can drum up a ghost from the past reciting that first evening’s reading of Sheridan’s Ride, (provided herewith) or download one of the pieces of music played and take your ipod and listen to the piece where you know it played over 124 years ago.
Maybe when the new Indiana Landmarks Center opens, they can play one of the pieces from Tomlinson’s opening night. After all, it is next door to a Dietrich Bohlen designed structure, is praised highly for its acoustics and upon its opening will also be a place filled with “manifest pride.”
Sheridan’s Ride
by Thomas Buchanan Read
Up from the South, at break of day,
Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay,
The affrighted air with a shudder bore,
Like a herald in haste to the chieftain’s door,
The terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,
Telling the battle was on once more,
And Sheridan twenty miles away.

And wider still those billows of war
Thundered along the horizon’s bar;
And louder yet into Winchester rolled
The roar of that red sea uncontrolled,
Making the blood of the listener cold,
As he thought of the stake in that fiery fray,
With Sheridan twenty miles away.

But there is a road from Winchester town,
A good, broad highway leading down:
And there, through the flush of the morning light,
A steed as black as the steeds of night
Was seen to pass, as with eagle flight;
As if he knew the terrible need,
He stretched away with his utmost speed.
Hills rose and fell, but his heart was gay,
With Sheridan fifteen miles away.

Still sprang from those swift hoofs, thundering south,
The dust like smoke from the cannon’s mouth,
Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster,
Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster.
The heart of the steed and the heart of the master
Were beating like prisoners assaulting their walls,
Impatient to be where the battle-field calls;
Every nerve of the charger was strained to full play,
With Sheridan only ten miles away.

Under his spurning feet, the road
Like an arrowy Alpine river flowed,
And the landscape sped away behind
Like an ocean flying before the wind;
And the steed, like a barque fed with furnace ire,
Swept on, with his wild eye full of fire;
But, lo! he is nearing his heart’s desire;
He is snuffing the smoke of the roaring fray,
With Sheridan only five miles away.

The first that the general saw were the groups
Of stragglers, and then the retreating troops;
What was to be done? what to do?–a glance told him both.
Then striking his spurs with a terrible oath,
He dashed down the line, ‘mid a storm of huzzas,
And the wave of retreat checked its course there, because
The sight of the master compelled it to pause.
With foam and with dust the black charger was gray;
By the flash of his eye, and his red nostril’s play,
He seemed to the whole great army to say:
“I have brought you Sheridan all the way
From Winchester down to save the day.”

Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!
Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!
And when their statues are placed on high
Under the dome of the Union sky,
The American soldier’s Temple of Fame,
There, with the glorious general’s name,
Be it said, in letters both bold and bright:
“Here is the steed that saved the day
By carrying Sheridan into the fight,
From Winchester–twenty miles away!”

5 responses to “Favorite Friday of the Forgotten…Tomlinson Hall”

  1. Joanna Davey says:

    Thank you so much. I love reading and hearing about Indianapolis history.

  2. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I just reread your 2010 article about Tomlinson Hall and noticed some things that went right over my head when I read it the first time. One of the pieces of music played at the dedication of the building in 1886 was Gioachino Rossini’s “Inflammatus.” That Latin word translates to “aflame” or “burning” in English! Apparently, the musical selection on opening night was a sign of the building’s eventual demise more than 72 years later.
    Somewhat coincidentally, not long after Tomlinson Hall burned down, the Shortridge High School A Cappella Choir (of which several people in my family were members over the years) performed Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” (the work from which the piece “Inflammatus” comes). Our concerts were accompanied by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
    Another interesting note is that Carl Barus, the musician who conducted the opening night concert, was the maternal grandfather of Edith Sophia Lieber Vonnegut. Edith was the wife of Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. and the mother of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The younger Kurt’s daughter, artist Edith “Edie” Vonnegut Squibb, is named for her grandmother.

  3. Carol Shaefer says:

    Thank You. I work for the Indiana Historical Society and we are training for our next ” You are There” (where people can walk in to a photograph from Indiana’s past. The photo is of a flood relief station in West Indianapolis. We were told that the main relief station was at Tomlinson Hall. This helps a great deal!
    Thank you again.

    Carol B. Shaefer

  4. Anonymous says:


  5. Mark Ristow says:

    Interesting. Thank you. I am writing a history of our vegetable garden begun by my great grandmother in 1890. As I understand it, in the 1890s and up until the 1920s, the wholesale vegetable market in Indianapolis took place around the courthouse downtown. Your article has a picture of a color postcard showing Tomlinson Hall and the market around the courthouse. Is it possible to get a scan of that postcard to use for my book? I am happy to pay for the scan which Roberts Photo downtown can do on a high resolution scanner. Thanks for any help you can give me.

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