A Brief History of the Evansville Municipal Market
We are fortunate to have a wonderfully historic building to call home. A good friend of Fire & Rain, Peggy K. Newton, has done some pretty involved research on the old Evansville Municipal Market, located on First Avenue across from the historic Willard Library. Here’s what she discovered.
The Municipal Market, completed in 1918, was situated on property originally owned by Evansville founder Hugh McGary. Throughout the 1800s the property served at various times as a small marketplace and a park. As early as 1905 the location was mentioned as a site for a proposed permanent all-weather market, with an interior auditorium and outside space for a seasonal farmers’ market. Plans were finally announced in November 1916. Clifford Shopbell and Associates, employing the Prairie School architectural style prominent at the time, designed the enclosed structure and two sheds with concrete tables where farmers could back up their wagons and trucks to unload and display their produce. After an informal opening the day before, the Municipal Market opened officially on March 2, 1918, with Mayor Benjamin Bosse leading the festivities.
Permanent booths displayed staples and “fancy” items for sale by grocers, delicatessens, dairies, produce farmers and orchards. Coffee, tea and “substitute beverages” (during the Prohibition Era) were also sold. Just inside the building’s front entrance, facing Pennsylvania Avenue, was a confectionary shop/newsstand selling a complete line of cigars, cigarettes, candy, soda, ice cream, postcards, popcorn, and newspapers and magazines. At the back entrance, facing Indiana Street, vendors sold chicken, fish and other seafood. Meat counters in the center of the building circled ice boxes where various meat vendors kept steaks, ground meat and other beef, pork and lamb products.
The 1920s and early 1930s marked the heyday of the interior farmers’ market. The Great Depression marked the end of the permanent market, although seasonally outdoor farmers’ markets continued into the 21st century. During World War II the U.S. Post Office used the building for mail-sorting operations. In 1954 Hose House No. 3 moved into the now-abandoned building, adding two doors in the front to accommodate the fire trucks. The fire station remained here for 30 years until it was moved to a new building a few blocks away. For a few years afterwards, the building served as the garage for the city’s bus system.
Concerned over the future of the building, Evansville Historic Preservation Officer Joan Marchand worked successfully to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places, taking effect on December 22, 1983. Over the next 15 years the building remained empty amid rumors of microbreweries being possible buyers or the building simply being torn down. The condition of the building deteriorated as the years passed.
In 1999 Scott Anderson purchased the property. After extensive cleanup and remodeling of the interior building, he opened a delicatessen in March 2000. The deli proved to be a popular meeting place for coffee breaks and luncheons for downtown and nearby workers until Anderson sold the property to Fire & Rain, who improved the property further by enclosing the shed on the western side of the building, which now houses offices.
Fire & Rain has shown its dedication to historical preservation and neighborhood improvement. Without sacrificing the historical integrity of the property, Fire & Rain has given new life to an old building, and made it a marvel of beauty as well.