Chattanooga Choo-Choo History


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.”

Rock on Trains © 2018, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

Pardon Me Boy, Is That the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?

This blog entry features my 1991 painting of the the Southern Railways Terminal Station in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The title of this painting, “Pardon Me Boy, Is That the Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” was chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Glenn Miller’s big band era hit song which was recorded May 7, 1941. This painting, which is comprised of two images, shows the majestic building front as viewed from Market Street and the rear where the trains departed, reviving a more tranquil time in railroad history.

By the 1970’s, declining rail traffic to Chattanooga forced Southern Railway to close the doors of Terminal Station. The Birmingham Special, Train No. 18, became the last regular passenger train to pass through Terminal Station. On August 11, 1970, at 11:35PM, the Birmingham Special departed Terminal Station and headed for Washington, DC.  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.

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 second to none.

My two images of the Choo-Choo took five (5) months and 325 hours to complete. I’m including several development photos taken during its creation. When my lithographs were released in 1991, I mailed a set to Jonnie Miller Soper (Glenn Miller’s daughter) along with Paula Kelly Turner and Tex Beneke, both singers of Glenn Miller’s famous song.  Not long after the prints were mailed, I received very nice thank you notes from all three recipients (see images below).  Unfortunately, Paula (d.1992) and Tex (d.2000) have passed away, but Jonnie is still living.  This 8-minute video clip on YouTube shows Tex and Paula performing the Chattanooga Choo-Choo song.

"Choo-Choo" rear Preliminary Development Photo

"Choo-Choo" rear at 30 hrs development

"Choo-Choo" rear at 56 hrs development

"Choo-Choo" rear at 122 hrs development

"Choo-Choo" rear at 150 hrs development (complete)

Click here to view/purchase this print at T.D.R. Productions.

"Choo-Choo" front Preliminary Development Photo

"Choo-Choo" front at 30 hrs development

"Choo-Choo" front at 90 hrs development

"Choo-Choo" front at 175 hrs development (complete)

Click here to view/purchase this print at T.D.R. Productions.

Paula Kelly Turner thank you letter

Tex Beneke thank you letter

Jonnie Miller Soper thank you letter

Click here to visit T.D.R. Productions and view/purchase your “Choo-Choo” print set.  Thanks for your interest!

Rock on Trains © 2011, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions.  All rights reserved.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.