CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — By the start of the Civil War, Chattanooga was an established transportation hub.
Supplies and troops moved through the city, and an important battle was fought in the city in 1863. By the latter half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, the city’s role as a hub for railroads only increased.
Over the years, a number of major railroads served the city, including the Cincinnati Southern Railway. Per one retelling of the legend, on March 5, 1880, operated a southbound that departed Cincinnati bound for Chattanooga that was nicknamed Chattanooga Choo Choo.
Chattanooga’s immortality as a railroad town was marked for eternity with the release of Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” a song he recorded in 1941 for the film “Sun Valley Serenade.” The song topped the Hit Parade chart, selling more than a million copies.
By the first decade of the 20th century, Southern Railways needed a new terminal in town. So, the company hired New York architect Don Barber to design the depot, and the new Terminal Station was dedicated on Dec. 1, 1909.
“Chattanoogans who have not visited the new terminal station since it has been practically completed have a big treat in store,” the Daily News newspaper opined on Dec. 10, 1908. “Few persons, if any, who have not visited the station within the past few weeks have any conception of its grandeur and entire fitness for handling passenger traffic. To properly appreciate the new railroad plant a person should spend a few minutes at the Central shed and study the conditions there and then go to the new station. The contrast is great.”
The station’s 14 tracks served the 68 trains that arrived and departed daily.
During its 61-year run as a rail terminal, a number of famous people passed through its doors, including Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan and Franklin D. Roosevelt. But, the end of the passenger rail era nearly spelled doom for the building.
On Aug. 11, 1970, the final train, the Birmingham Special, departed from the station, leaving the structure with an uncertain future. Luckily, a group of local businessmen intervened in 1971 and bought the station.
After more than a year of renovations, the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel reopened in the former station following an April 11, 1973, re-dedication.
The hotel boasts more than 360 rooms and suites, including 48 rooms located in restored train cars. There are also a number of restaurants and shops on the terminal station’s grounds, but the highlight is the grand dome, which measures 68 feet by 82 feet and spans the station’s former waiting room, today the hotel lobby.
While trains no longer serve the station, visitors can hop a 1924 New Orleans trolley to tour the 24-acre hotel and climb aboard a 1910 Baldwin steam locomotive on static display.