Some Early Lines – A History of The Chattanooga Choo-Choo Terminal Station & Trolley by Daniel Towers Lewis

A History of The Chattanooga Choo-Choo Terminal Station & Trolley

by Daniel Towers Lewis

  A Stand-in for the Chattanooga Choo-Choo

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.

Central Station

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

Track 29

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


Union Station in it’s Last DaysCourtesy Chattanooga Public Library

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.

Rebirth of the Golden Age Of Railroads Fortunately, a group of two dozen local investors had a much better idea for the old station. The investors obtained the property from Southern Railway, and with an initial investment of $10 million dollars converted the old Terminal Station into a family vacation complex. In March of 1973 the United States Department of the Interior placed Chattanooga’s Terminal Station on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Landmark Plaque at Terminal Station

The Grand Dome in the lobby of Terminal Sation

One of the Victorian Parlor Cars Hotel History The new twenty-four acre hotel complex opened May 30, 1973. It included 48 train cars divided into 96 40’ x 10’ rooms, and a 103 room Motor Inn (which today is Hotel Number 1). By 1976, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo averaged over one million visitors a year, and announced expansion plans. These plans included expanding the hotel’s convention center and building an additional L- shaped building of hotel rooms (this became Hotel Number 2). By July of 1977 both expansion projects were completed. In March of 1978 the Choo-Choo continued its expansion by opening an ice-skating Ring. Today this is Grand Central Station., used for special meeting. In March of 1981, the Choo-Choo opened a third hotel building, bring the total number of rooms at the complex to 361.
In 1989 the Choo-Choo Partners Ltd. assumed ownership of the hotel complex, providing $4 million in improvements, and the Choo-Choo joined the Holiday Inn family of hotels.

The Choo-Choo Today

Without question, the Choo-Choo provides both out of town guest and Chattanooga natives a unique experience. Just a few steps from Market Street takes the visitor into a charming world recalling the golden age of railroads, carefully accented by quaint shops and restaurants. At night, the Victorian splendor of the Choo-Choo transforms into a magical atmosphere as forty gas torches illuminate the gardens located between its historic buildings. The Choo-Choo is a living history book of early twentieth century America, when railroads were king. A full exploration of this history book lacks completeness without a ride on the Choo-Choo’s authentic trolley.

The Gardens at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo

1924 Trolley at the Choo-Choo The Trolley From the opening day of the Choo-Choo hotel complex in 1973, the 1924 Trolley provided one of the most beloved activities on the property. In 1924 Pearly Thomas Car Works of High Point North Carolina built the Trolley. The Trolley operated on the Canal Street Line in New Orleans from 1924 to 1960. The Tennessee Valley Railroad museum obtained the Trolley and brought it to Chattanooga in 1964.
This vintage 52 seat Trolley operates with electricity provided from a 600 volts (D.C.) electrical line above the Trolley. This power runs two electric motors propelling the trolley. The reversible seats were manufactured in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. The electricity also powers an air compressor that provides its breaks and opens and closes its pneumatic doors. After being restored in Wallasivlle Georgia, the Trolley began operating at the Choo-Choo in 1973. Inside of the 1924 Trolley

For More Information Visit

Or Call 1-800-TRACK-29

The Chattanooga Choo-Choo is not affiliated with in any way

Published @ by

The Simon Moon Historical Society


Copyright 2002

Duplication limited to free or at cost distribution,with the acknowledgement that such duplicationis by courtesy of the Simon Moon Historical Society


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