In the late 1880’s through the early 1900’s, Chattanooga, Tennessee was a major hub for both industrial and passenger railway service in the South. In 1904, Southern Railway System began plans to build a new passenger terminal to relieve the over-crowding of Chattanooga’s rail system. Construction of Chattanooga’s Terminal Station began in 1906 at the cost 1.5 million dollars. The architectural design of Terminal Station is a combination of the plans which won American architect Don Barber first prize at a Paris Beaux Arts Institute competition and of Barber’s design of the famous New York Bank.
The first train arrived at Terminal Station on December 1, 1909. The depot grew to serve nearly 50 passenger trains a day. Over the years, the busy terminal greeted Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. By the late 1940’s, railroads across the nation saw a decline in service. World War II had ended and the use of automobiles became more prevalent. Only two local and long distance trains remained at Chattanooga’s Terminal Station by the 1960’s. On August 11, 1970, the Birmingham Special became the last train to depart Terminal Station. Southern Railway vacated Terminal Station soon after.
Terminal Station seemed destined for demolition, the fate of many other regional train stations at that time. However, Terminal Station was rescued by a group of local businessmen who were inspired by the theme of the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" song, made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. They invested four million dollars before its new grand opening. On April 11, 1973, Terminal Station was reopened to the public as the “Chattanooga Choo Choo Hilton and Entertainment Complex.” Terminal Station was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and is considered one of the Chattanooga’s first historic preservation projects. In 1989, a group of Chattanooga investors, known as Choo Choo Partners, brought new management and invested another four million dollars in renovations to the complex.
History and hospitality are at the heart of the Chattanooga Choo Choo and its Terminal Station. The 24-acre complex boasts three hotel buildings, five restaurants, a variety of retail shops, tranquil rose gardens, an educational antique trolley ride, model railroad museum and display, and much more. Guests can overnight in beautifully restored authentic sleeper cars, once reserved for only the wealthiest of passengers during the railroad era.
There is again the bustle that was so familiar in the railroad days at Chattanooga’s Terminal Station. For generations, Chattanooga’s Terminal Station has been a place of many memories made and it continues to be today.