Bounded by Maryland, Delaware, and South streets and Capitol Avenue, the Wholesale District grew up around Union Station. Its proximity to the railroads and Washington Street retailers allowed local, regional, and national distribution of wholesalers’ merchandise.

Corner of East Maryland and South Meridian Streets looking east. M. O'Connor and Company's Wholesale Grocers was on the northeast corner. Murals painted on the side advertise Hoosier Poet Foods (with a portrait of James Whitcomb Riley), Pillsbury's Best flour, Blue Valley Butter, Lincoln Highway cigars, and Camel cigarettes. Trucks from the Indianapolis Printing Company, Merchants Heat and Light, and several streetcars are in the foreground.
Maryland and Meridian Streets, 1921 Credit: The Indiana Album: Ray Hinz Collection View Source

Following the Civil War the district rapidly gained businesses. The variety of commercial concerns peaked in the early 1900s when the area housed enterprises ranging from Hatfield Electric Company, suppliers of electric and power equipment, to Mooney-Mueller Drug Company. In addition to the vast range of products available, the area also featured an array of building styles including Gothic and Romanesque Revival, neoclassical, and Italianate.

Among the area’s 47 extant buildings, dating from 1863 to 1930, are Fahnley & McCrea Millinery Company (1905-1906, 240-242 South Meridian Street), the city’s first wholesale millinery house, D. P. Erwin & Company dry goods (1888-1889, 206-214 South Meridian), Holland and Ostermeyer Building (1867-1868, 219 East Maryland Street), which housed the Johnston and Lilly pharmaceutical firm, and the Kothe, Wells and Bauer Company wholesale grocers, whose Ko-We-Ba brand canned goods were a household favorite throughout the state.

View of the southwest corner of South Meridian and Georgia Street showing a large multi-story commercial building.
The McKee and Erwin buildings at the 200 block of Meridian Street, ca. 1980 Credit: City of Indianapolis, Department of Metropolitan Development, Indiana Historical Society View Source

The Wholesale District contains the greatest concentration of 19th-century commercial buildings in the city. A Who’s Who of Indianapolis firms designed buildings for the area, among them: Vonnegut and Bohn (1912-1913, Omni Severin Hotel, 45 West Georgia Street), R. P. Daggett & Co. (1888-1889, McKee Building, 202-204 South Meridian Street), D. A. BOHLEN AND SON (1894-1895, Majestic Building, 47 South Pennsylvania Street), and John H. Stem (1888, George W. Stout Building, 207-209 South Meridian Street).

In 1974, the district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (boundaries amended 1982). It remains a commercial area where retail businesses are interspersed with restaurants, hotels, and office space. 

The Wholesale District is one of seven designated Cultural Districts in Indianapolis because it supports a large number of cultural and hospitality offerings, including Circle Centre Mall, the Indianapolis Artsgarden, the Indiana Theatre (home of the Indiana Repertory Theatre and Dance Kaleidoscope), the historic and nationally acclaimed blues club the Slippery Noodle Inn, and well-known historic St. Elmo Steak House.

Revised March 2021

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