The Adelaide Town Hall was built in 1863-1866. At the time it was built, it was the most significant building in King William Street. It was designed by Edmund Wright, who was in partnership with EJ Woods, and built by English and Brown.
Edmund Wright was the architect for a number of other significant buildings in Adelaide, including Parliament House and the former Bank of South Australia in King William Street both of which were designed in conjunction with Lloyd Tayler. Wright and Woods were also the architects who designed the General Post Office, which is located opposite Adelaide Town Hall.
In subsequent years, other buildings were erected adjacent to the Town Hall on land owned by the Council. This construction work was controlled by guidelines set by the Council so that the new buildings complemented the style of the Town Hall. In 1869, the Prince Alfred Hotel was completed on the southern side of the Town Hall. In the same year, Queens Chambers was completed in Pirie Street, although in a different style to the Town Hall and Prince Alfred Hotel. In 1876, Eagle Chambers was completed on the northern side of the Town Hall. In 1880, Gladstone Chambers were built between Eagle and Queens Chambers. A new council chamber was also begun on the ground floor of the Town Hall with a supper room on the first floor. The furniture for the new chamber was designed by Edmund Wright and arranged in a semi-circular shape, described as "the mode now adopted in the chief cities throughout the world, and which has been found to answer admirably both to the comfort of the speakers and audience".
The Adelaide Town Hall was the venue on 1 August 1895 for the inaugural meeting of the Australasian Federation League of South Australia, this organisation having been formed at a meeting convened seven months earlier by the Australian Natives' Association in the colony. This league was the principal organisation that campaigned in favour of federation in South Australia. The meeting at the Town Hall was a major public gathering attended by many prominent South Australians. The meeting was also notable for the large number of women who attended.
The Town Hall was also the venue for the third Annual General Meeting of the Australasian Federation League of South Australia, held on 1 November 1897. It is highly likely that the league held its other Annual General Meetings here as well.
On 3 May 1898, the Banqueting Room of the Town Hall was the venue for the well-attended first meeting of the Anti-Convention Bill League, an organisation which had been formed a week earlier at a meeting of representatives of the United Labor Party, the Labor Regulation League and the Trades and Labor Council at Trades Hall (now demolished). The purpose of the league was to campaign against the acceptance by the people of South Australia of the draft Constitution Bill at a referendum to be held on 4 June 1898. The Constitution Bill was the outcome of the Federal Convention that had met in lengthy sittings in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne over the period March 1897 to March 1898.
The Anti-Convention Bill League held its first public meeting, designed as a major demonstration, in the Adelaide Town Hall on 9 May 1898. The Mayor of Adelaide presided over the gathering. On the same day and at the same time, a group of citizens met in the Mayor's Reception Room in the Town Hall to form a rival organisation, the Commonwealth Bill League. The meeting was presided over by JH Symon QC, who was still the President of the Australasian Federation League of South Australia. The Commonwealth Bill League aimed to counter the activities of the Anti-Convention Bill and campaign for a 'yes' vote in the referendum.
On the attainment of federation, the Town Hall was the site for the formal swearing in of Lord Tennyson as governor of the State of South Australia on 1 January 1901.
The Town Hall underwent further alterations during the twentieth century. In 1915, the Council erected a building behind Queen's Chambers, which has since been demolished. In 1935, an electric clock was added to the tower of the Town Hall. In the 1950s, Prince Alfred Hotel and Eagle Chambers were taken over for the Council's use, and are now considered as part of the Town Hall. At the same time, the buildings underwent modernisation and conversion. The Adelaide Town Hall continues to be used for its original purpose.
A two-storey building in the Victorian Free Classical style, with a prominent tower and cupola. The facade features a ground level arcade and first level open colonnade, which is capped by a railed parapet. The building is constructed from Tea Tree Gully freestone. There are carved keystones on the front of the building, representing Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Governor of South Australia.
The north and south wings of the Town Hall were originally constructed as separate buildings and were later incorporated into the Town Hall, but complement the original building. They are built of Dry Creek bluestone.
The interior of the Town Hall is relatively ornate, and features a grand staircase that leads to a first floor hall which is elaborately decorated. The Queen Adelaide Room contains a collection of objects and paintings associated with Queen Adelaide, and the Colonel Light Room contains surveying artefacts, watercolours and other objects associated with Colonel Light. The Town Hall contains numerous significant portraits and items of furniture, including the Lord Mayor's Chair and cedar furniture thought to have been purchased when the Town Hall was built.