The Chattanooga Choo Choo today is a living historical railroad structure and has its roots dating back to the Southern Railway, which originally constructed the building in the early 20th century when it was known as Terminal Station. After being saved from near-certain destruction over 30 years ago today the station serves in a similar fashion to that of St. Louis Union Station, a modern shopping and entertainment venue with history well represented. In its current setting the building looks far different than it did during its railroad heyday. However, the current mangers have worked hard to retain the station's heritage and you can find all kind of railroad-related themes throughout the premises such as a model railroad and "Dinner in the Diner". If you are ever in the Chattanooga you should definitely stop by to see the station.
The property that the Chattanooga Choo Choo (or Terminal Station as it was known then) is now located on was purchased by the Southern Railway in 1905 for around $72,000. The railroad quickly demolished the one house on the grounds and began construction on its new station in 1906. The building would be built in the Beaux Arts design and an American, Don Barber would be the architect overseeing construction. Barber hailed from Paris's Beaux Arts Institute and the Southern's president of the time was so impressed with the architect's design for the Chattanooga station that Barber was actually requested in person for a face-to-face meeting.
One interesting note about the station's interior is upon the Southern president's request the interior was designed after the National Park Bank of New York City. Terminal Station would be completed by late 1908 and featured a grand concourse which was highlighted by a beautiful arched dome (something which was actually rather common for the large stations of the time). The dome spanned the entire length of the concourse, which was 68 feet by 82 feet and featured four beautiful brass chandeliers. The station would open for business on December 1, 1909 and became a gateway to the west seeing nearly 50 trains every day and thousands of daily passengers.
Unfortunately, passenger traffic declined following World War II and by the 1960s the station was seeing just a few trains a day. By 1970 Terminal Station saw its last train leave the platform and was in serious danger of being demolished soon after. Luckily, a group of investors saw an opportunity in the old building and purchased it, spending nearly $4 million on the complex restoring it to its former glory. Known as the Chattanooga Choo Choo it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and has become one of the city's featured attractions with restaurants, retail shops, hotel, convention center and more housed in the building.
Today, the building is a far cry from when it was nearly demolished in the early 1970s. While the exterior looks very good all by itself since its restoration at night it truly comes alive with a massive neon steam locomotive adorning the roof and lights decorating the windows and roof. While inside the station you can find the shops and restaurants mentioned above many carry themes related to railroads. For instance, there is the "Dinner in the Diner" mentioned before, which is housed in a restored streamlined diner car from the 1950s. Then there is the coffee shop which also carries a train theme.
If you are interested in spending the night at the station they have more restored streamlined rail cars on the premises, which have been fully restored and feature exquisite accommodations. Additionally, you can also ride the nearby trolley, which operates every day of the week taking visitors on a short ride along the property. Overall, the Chattanooga Choo Choo offers a unique experience catering to both the contemporary with their wide array of things to see and do as well as the historian and train enthusiast who are perhaps more interested in touring the grounds and learning about its history. There are not many other such attractions to be found around the country. To learn more about the Chattanooga Choo Choo please click here to visit their website, which provides a wealth of information about the complex.