The Eastern Market was designed by Adolf Cluss and was in continuous operation as a public market from 1873 until April 30th, 2007. It was the first in a larger city-owned public market system, initiated to urbanize Washington, make orderly provision for the distribution of goods to its residents, and serve as a magnet to draw residents. The Market was expanded in 1908 with the addition of the Center and North Halls designed by Snowden Ashford. At the start of the 20th century, the Eastern Market was recognized as the unofficial "town center" of Capitol Hill. It is the last of the city's public markets still in operation.
Despite nearly closing due to competition from grocery store chains and a decline in neighborhood investment, local residents fought to keep it open, and the area has since revitalized. The Eastern Market is still a thriving home to a working farmers' market. Fresh meats, baked goods and cheeses are sold from indoor stalls, and fresh produce is sold outside beneath the covered sidewalk. Artisans and antiques dealers also sell their goods outside the market on weekends, making Eastern Market a popular stop for locals as well as tourists. The Market 5 Gallery organizes art shows, music and theatre performances, and craft sales at the Eastern Market.
Eastern Market was badly damaged by an early-morning 3-alarm fire on April 30, 2007. The heaviest damage was in the South Hall of the market, the portion occupied by vendors' stalls, where the roof suffered a partial collapse. The Washington Post has described the South Hall as "gutted so badly that birds can now fly in through the front windows and out the back ones." Following the fire, Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty promised to rebuild the market. The outdoor weekend market was disrupted but never closed. Many of the food vendors re-opened for business within weeks of the fire, selling their products outside of the building. In August 2007 the city completed a temporary market annex known as the "East Hall" across the street on the grounds of Hine Junior High School that will house the vendors until the South Hall is reopened.