Chattanooga, Tennessee was nicknamed “The Gateway to the Deep South” during the Civil War, and that monicker held true for a over a century. Though rail travel in Chattanooga pre-dates the current structure, the Chattanooga Choo Choo’s Terminal Station was used to welcome and send off passengers in style from December 1909 until August 1970, when the building was boarded up. In 1973, a group of investors saved the structure from demolition, restored it, and opened it to the public once again, this time as a vacation complex.
While the 1941 song, made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, may have helped make the Chattanooga Choo Choo internationally famous, the century-old rail station turned attraction was already well-known in the states, welcoming more than 50 passenger trains each day. Many famous figures passed through Terminal Station, including Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The 85-foot freestanding brick dome in the center of Terminal Station is the building’s centerpiece. The Terminal Station and its impressive dome were designed by Don Barber, a New York City architect who won a prestigious architectural competition in 1900 by the Beaux Arts Institute in Paris, France.
Though it’s not the original Chattanooga Choo Choo, as in the train made famous by the song, the attraction does have a train engine on display at its 24-acre property. The sharply painted black, green, and red engine sits idle now behind the Terminal Station and makes for the perfect Chattanooga photo op. The restored wood-burning engine is the same kind of engine that originally made the trek from Cincinnati to Chattanooga in 1880. This particular piece of history once chugged along the tracks between Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains in the 1940s.
Visitors to the Choo Choo might feel like they’ve stepped back in time. The Terminal Station lobby is reminiscent of a by-gone era with its fully-restored freestanding dome. Trains line the tracks that still run throughout the property. Victorian train cars have been converted into hotel rooms. A yellow trolley rides the rails offering tours of the grounds. Shops and restaurants line the complex, offering train-related memorabilia, delicious treats, and a variety of entertainment at The Comedy Catch and Track 29. Visitors should also take time to visit the world’s largest model railroad display, which depicts the Chattanooga area.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the Historic Hotels of America, the Chattanooga Choo Choo has made an indelible mark on history and is worth a visit. For more information, visit choochoo.com.