A History of The Chattanooga Choo-Choo Terminal Station & Trolley
by Daniel Towers Lewis
|Rail Travel and Chattanooga|
In 1838, the Western and Atlantic (W & A) line named Chattanooga its northern terminal for trains departing from Atlanta. On December 1, 1849 W & A operated the first train to Chattanooga. Passengers and goods on board the train stopped at Tunnel Hill, were carried over the ridge in wagons, and resumed there train ride on the other side. This first train stopped at a temporary station. In 1850 W & A completed a tunnel through Tunnel Hill.
On December 11, 1845 the Tennessee General Assembly chartered the Nashville & Chattanooga Railway (N & C). In 1852 the several railway companies operating in Chattanooga began building the Union Station located at the corner of 9th and Market. The station derived its name because more than one railroad united in its construction.
Chattanooga’s Union Station ca. 1885Courtesy Chattanooga Public Library
|In 1853, since the Cumberland Mountains obstructed a direct rout to Chattanooga, passengers rode the N & C from Nashville to Bridgeport Alabama, concluding their trip to Chattanooga by riverboat.|
By 1857 Chattanooga had become a hub of rail travel in the South. The main structure of the Union depot was built in 1858. Pre-Civil War mainline railroad construction provided Chattanooga with rail service, while also contributing to its strategic military significance from 1861 – 1865.
The Stanton House HotelCourtesy Chattanooga Public Library On several occasions during the war, the shed at Union station served as a makeshift hospital for wounded soldiers from both sides.Economic opportunities in post-war Chattanooga, led John Stanton of Boston to invest $100,000 in 1871 on the construction of the Stanton House, a 100 room L-shaped hotel, in the 1400 block of Market Street. On September 4, 1875 the first trolley in Chattanooga began operation.
|The Chattanooga Choo-Choo|
In March of 1880, the first train of Cincinnati Southern Railway (CSR) rolled into town, creating the first major link between the North and South. A newspaper columnist nicknamed the train the “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”, a name that would later go down in history. The Choo-Choo crossed the Tennessee River seven miles north of Chattanooga, and two miles further, at Boyce, connected with five miles of the W & A line to Union Station. Eventually CSR constructed its own line parallel to that of W & A from Boyce to Chattanooga. The Chattanooga Choo-Choo would not become famous for another sixty-one years. In 1881 A brick depot was constructed at Union Station.
Historic Marker about the Chattanooga Choo-Choo
|Chattanooga’s First Electric Trolley|
The City Street Railway Company began using electric cars in 1888. The first electric car ran from the Stanton House, located at the later site of Chattanooga’s Terminal Station, to the Tennessee River. By 1889 Chattanooga had 55.5 miles of trolley track. Eventually, the Chattanooga Trolley system grew to an amazing operation with 109 cars operating on 110 miles of track.
By 1888 eight passenger lines operated out of Union Station, so CSR and the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad collaborated on building the Central Station at the corner of Market and King. Central Station opened on September 16, 1888. In 1894 six of the railroad companies operating in Chattanooga merged to form the Southern Railway.
The Central Station in the Early 1900sCourtesy Chattanooga Public Library
|The Terminal Station|
In 1904, Southern Railway decided to construct a new station in Chattanooga. The following year, they obtained the Stanton House property, which had fallen into disuse, for $71,000. They chose the design for the new station submitted by Don Barber of New York, which included an awe-inspiring eighty-five foot ceiling. On December 1, 1909 a crowd gathered for the grand opening of Southern Railway’s new $1.5 million dollar Terminal Station in Chattanooga. This same month the Central Station was closed. The new station operated fourteen tracks.
Southern Rairoad’s Terminal Station in Chattanooga, TennesseeCourtesy Chattanooga Public Library
When Glen Miller and his orchestra recorded a song by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon titled Chattanooga Choo-Choo, the song became an instant success, remaining on the pop charts for seventeen weeks in 1941, and all the world learned of Track 29. Many times during World War II the Terminal Station filled to capacity. After the War American rail travel began to decline. In Chattanooga, this first became apparent with the termination of Chattanooga’s trolley service. On April 10, 1947 at 12:40 A.M. Chattanooga’s last trolley, from the Boyce Line, rolled into the Trolley Barn at 3rd and Market. Today visitors can still see this Trolley Barn across the street from Shuttle Park North.
Chattanooga’s Old Trolley Barn
Historic Marker about Union Station
Historic Terminal Station
Over the years Terminal Station greeted Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, President and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan. In 1948, Southern Railway installed a $265,000.00 switch system. The system, consisting of 100,000 feet of cable that took three years to complete. Today the console from this system is on display next to the Depot Shop. At this point 35 trains arrived each day at the Terminal Station. By the 1970s, declining rail traffic to Chattanooga forced Southern Railway to close the doors of Terminal Station. The Birmingham Special, Southern Railway train No. 18, became the last regular passenger train to pass through the Terminal Station. On August 11, 1970 at 11:35 p.m. the Birmingham Special departed Terminal Station and headed to Washington D.C. The windows of the station were boarded up, as its once immaculate interior began collecting dust. The abandoned station faced the sad prospects of demolition. On May 1, 1971 the Georgian, leaving from Union Station bound for Atlanta, became the last passenger train from Chattanooga. Union Station was razed in 1973.
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