A challenge went out in 1900 by the architectural students at Beaux Arts Institute in Paris, France. The students offered themselves a prize for the best plans which could be drawn up for a railroad station that would suit the needs of a large city. The winner of the prize was Mr. Don Barber, an American from New York City.
In 1904, when the president of the Southern Railway decided to build a new passenger terminal in Chattanooga, one architect who offered an entry was none other than the same Mr. Barber. When Southern Railway’s president saw Barber’s design, he was very much impressed. He said he felt the exterior plans were perfect but asked Barber if he could possibly alter the interior design. Upon this request, the Grand Dome was created. It is completely free standing and rests on four major steel supports 75 feet apart. The dome’s underside, which covered the 68 by 82 foot general waiting room, was decorated in artistic plaster embellishments of heraldic emblems. For those nocturnal passengers who would frequent this 24 hour station, illumination was provided by four ornate brass chandeliers, each containing 40 lights and each centered by an 18-inch opal globe. When these lights were on, the dome was truly lavish in its different prismatic colors.
On a bitterly cold winter morning, December 1, 1909, a crowd of several hundred gathered in the 1400 block of Market Street for the dedication of Chattanooga’s Terminal Station. After serving Chattanooga for 61 years, the Southern Railway closed the building August 11, 1970. It was purchased, restored, and reopened to the public in April 1973 and entered on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Dept. of Interior on January 25, 1974.
On March 5, 1880, the first passenger train connecting the north with the south traveled from Cincinnati, Ohio south to Chattanooga, Tennessee on the first municipal railroad, the Cincinnati Southern Line. A reporter dubbed the train the “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” and Big Band leader Glenn Miller and the Modernaires immortalized this legendary train in song May 7, 1941.
When the Southern Railway closed this magnificent architectural icon on August 11, 1970, a piece of Chattanooga was forever lost. Thankfully, it was spared the wrecking ball as so many others were not as fortunate. These following photos surely tell a story of a more pristine time–a time when traveling by rail was so much more relaxing compared to today. Hopefully, these photos will stir many a long lost memory.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2009, Justin W. Strickland, “Images of Rail – Chattanooga’s Terminal Station.”
Featured Southern Railway depots this month are those in Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia:
The Alabama Great Southern Railroad Company completed construction of the Bessemer passenger terminal in March 1916 at a cost of $30,000. The structure is 170 ft long and 50 ft with exterior walls of pressed brown brick. The ticket office was located in the center of the building and today contains original cabinets and desks. Today the depot is home to the Bessemer Hall of History.
The depot at Knoxville was built in 1903. The Southern Terminal is a former railway complex to include a passenger terminal and express depot adjacent to a large railyard. During the 1850’s the arrival of the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad and its predecessor lines transformed Knoxville into one of the southeast’s major wholesaling centers. In 1894 the ETV&G was absorbed by the Southern Railway, which in turn became part of the Norfolk Southern Railway in 1982.
The depot at Leeds, AL was built in 1883-84, following the completion of the Georgia & Pacific RR between Birmingham and Atlanta. The G&P remained until it was taken over by the Richmond & Danville RR in 1885, succeeded by the Southern Railway in 1894. Efforts to save the building were in 1980 after the Southern merger with Norfolk Southern. The depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places prior to the restoration completion in 1984. In 1999, the City of Leeds turned the old baggage room into a public meeting room. Two other rooms in the depot are a museum featuring railroad history, records and artifacts.
The depot at Toccoa, GA was built in 1915. Much, however, is known about the adjacent railroad line. Built originally as the Atlanta & Richmond Air-Line in 1873. In 1877, the railroad was renamed Atlanta and Charlotte Air-Line Railway and in 1894 became part of the Southern Railway, which in turn became the Norfolk Southern. Today the Amtrak Crescent (old Southern Crescent) makes regular stops there. The depot has been restored to its appearance in 1940 and houses the Toccoa-Stephens Chamber of Commerce, the Welcome Center, the Stephens County Historical Society and Currahee Military Museum.