Terminal Station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a former railroad station, and now hotel, which was once owned and operated by the Southern Railway, and is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The station is currently operated under the name The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel and is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The station was opened in 1909 and was the largest station in Chattanooga's history. The Terminal Station was the first train station in the south to help open a pathway to connect the north from the south, mostly to connect the city of Cincinnati, to Chattanooga. The original Chattanooga Union Station, built in 1858, (demolished in 1973) and a second station, built in 1882, were too small to handle the rapid expansion in the railroad network serving Chattanooga. Chattanooga was becoming a main port and hub for supplies and people to come through, so it was decided that a station should be built to be bigger than ever intended. The construction on the second station, or Terminal Station, began in 1906 at the cost of $1.5 million. Terminal Station was initially envisioned to be a train station that would be delivered supplies and small packages, and the it was decided to also be a passenger train. The Terminal Train Station eventually started to serve, on average, fifty passenger trains per day, and even greeted presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt. However, this does not include the traffic that was coming in due to the non-passenger trains.
American railroad passenger traffic declined after World War II, and predominately even more so in the 1950s and 1960s, due to competition from better cars and interstate systems, along with airplanes becoming a more popular way to travel and send things. Packages and land shipping became easier to do and the train track locations became outdated. Terminal Station hosted its last passenger train to visit and serve the station, the Birmingham Special, from New York City to Birmingham, and this train left Terminal Station in 1970, which is the same year the doors of Terminal Station finally closed to the public. In the years before, as the passenger traffic did decline, most of the platforms started to become storage before the station eventually got changed into a hotel and one by one, each track ultimately became obsolete.
On April, 1973, after near absolute destruction, Terminal Station was reopened by a group of business people, who were inspired by the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" song and its ever-coming popularity. They renamed Terminal Station to "Chattanooga Choo Choo Hilton and Entertainment Complex". Investors poured more than four million dollars into the Terminal Station renovation project. In the year 1989, another group of business people invested another four million dollars to refurbish and renovate the hotel and to bring in and hire new management and staff. The 1989 update resulted in the hotel's current moniker: The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel.
The Beaux-Arts-style station designed by Donn Barber was one of the grandest buildings in Chattanooga, featuring an arched main entrance. The building also has an 82-foot (25 m) high ceiling dome with a skylight in the center section. The station included a main waiting room, bathrooms, ticket offices, and other services ready to help potential passengers. The original Terminal Station was merely one story in height, so the aforementioned dome and skylight made this area look gargantuan in juxtaposition to other similar buildings, while the arched main entrance was said to be the "largest arch in the world." Lighting was provided by large brass chandeliers. Terminal Station had fourteen train tracks, that could serve seven different passenger platforms. The then president of the Southern Railway System, William Finley, wanted the architecture to follow the example of and imitate the looks of the National Park Bank of New York, and the high dome-like skylight was the main emulation of the National Park Bank.
The train tracks have mostly been removed to accommodate the growth of the city. The modern Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel is adorned with a bright neon miniature sign version of the trains that once visited. The hotel is surrounded and fenced in by rose gardens and includes an additional area for educational historic trolley rides as well as an ice skating rink. It also features the "Dinner in the Diner" restaurant.
The 1941 Glenn Miller song "Chattanooga Choo Choo" told the story of a train trip from Track 29 at Pennsylvania Station in New York City through Baltimore, North and South Carolina, and finishing the trip, or terminating at Terminal Station.
In the year 1973, local businessmen bought the Terminal Station, three years after it closing down, and they renamed it the Chattanooga Choo Choo after the Glenn Miller song, and began rehabilitating the building into a hotel. Today, the 24-acre (97,000 m2) complex is a convention center, hotel and resort with restaurants and shops. Hotel guests can stay in half of a restored passenger railway car. Dining at the complex includes the Gardens restaurant in the Terminal Station itself (enclosed passenger loading platform), The Station House (which is housed in a former baggage storage, but on original building plans is designated as "Mail Sorting Facility") and the "Dinner in the Diner" which is the complex's fine dining venue, housed in a restored 1938 Class A dining car. Some parts of the complex are connected by a heritage streetcar line, operated by a 1924-built ex-New Orleans Perley Thomas trolley car. Hotel guests and customers can reserve a completely refurbished and restored authentic sleeper cars, some of which are salvaged from the same trains that used to run through Terminal Station.