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Antique steam railroad engine atr Chattanooga Choo Choo

















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.

furnished railcar atr Chattanooga Choo Choo
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.

Lobby at Chattanooga Choo Choo
The lobby

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.

garden at Chattanooga Choo Choo
Part of the colorful central courtyard garden

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 the 1940's.

lobby at Chattanooga Choo Choo
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.  


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