I found Ms. Belmont’s words totally
accurate when I checked into the Choo Choo in Chattanooga
Tennessee and found myself ensconced in my own private railcar.
It felt like I was back in Victorian times traveling in luxury.
I kept watching for the Rockefellers or Carnegies to pop out of
one of my neighboring cars. While not as luxurious as some
upscale hotels, the railcar had such a vintage charm and
everything I needed to be comfortable for my stay. Outside my
windows, the garden was in full bloom and the pool, ice,
restaurants and a whole boardwalk of boutique shops was just
steps away from my door. There was even a charming Railroad
Museum on the boardwalk. The hotel’s other rooms and suites were
located behind the plaza where my railcar was parked and to the
front was a gem from another era.
The history of the hotel is closely woven
into the history of Chattanooga. The city was founded in 1839
and with the arrival of the Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1848
it was quickly becoming a rail and waterway hub. One
enterprising business man, John Stanton, betting on the city’s
close ties with the railroad built a grand hotel, The Stanton
House, on site of today’s Choo Choo was “the place to be” in the
the 1870s. By the turn of the century the bloom had worn off the
Stanton House and it gradually declined.
My car at the Choo Choo
In 1905, the Southern Railway bought the
old hotel to make way for its grand new Terminal Station. In
1908, the new terminal arose as an architectural piece of art.
It was designed by Don Barbor, a graduate of Beaux Arts
Institute in Paris, France. While a student there he had won a
much-coveted award for drawing up plans for a railroad station
suitable for the needs of a large city.
The award winning plan was merged with the
style of the famous National Park Bank of New York City. When
the first train arrived at the new terminal on December 1, 1909,
crowds entered on Market Street through a row of leaded glass
doors set in a multistoried arch filled with clear glass and
gazed up at a huge dome with a round skylight covering the 68 x
82 foot waiting room. They stared up at the brightly painted
heraldic emblems on the ceiling of the dome well illuminated by
four brass chandeliers.
Part of the colorful central
The train that they awaited was one of
Cincinnati Southern Railroad's small wood burning steam
locomotives. The one on display at the Choo Choo is one of those
trains. A newspaper reporter called the little steam locomotive
The Chattanooga Choo Choo and the name stuck. When the Glen
Miller Orchestra released the song by that name in 1941, it
became a household phrase. Its last working was on the Smoky
Mountain Railroad between Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains in
Another part of the lobby
Nearly all trains traveling to the South
passed through Chattanooga. The wood-burning "Choo Choo" was the
first to provide non-stop service. But as air and auto travel
grew in popularity the age of rail became a part of history and
the last train pulled into the terminal on August 11, 1970. The
magnificent waiting room was boarded up and the building awaited
its next incarnation.
That incarnation came about on April 11,
1973, as the Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel. Listed on the
National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the Chattanooga
Choo Choo Historic Hotel became one of the city's first and
finest historic preservation projects. Today the hotel has had
another renovation to return it to its original splendor. It
once again throngs with guests who admire the magnificent dome
and enjoy the lavish accommodations, shape and restaurants in
the complex. They flock to stay in a room or suite in one of the
three hotel buildings, enjoy the convention or dining
facilities, shop, stroll the formal garden or visit the Railroad
Museum but for me the most enjoyable experience of all was
staying in a beautiful vintage Victorian railcar.