'Chattanooga Choo Choo' is next stop for Tennessee Music Pathways

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Lon Eldridge, front, and Skip Frontz, Jr. perform with The 9th Street Stompers on Monday during an unveiling of a Tennessee Music Pathways marker in front of the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

A catchy big band tune that cemented Chattanooga's place in popular culture and became the world's first gold record is now a stop on Tennessee Music Pathways.

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" was No. 1 in the charts in America on this day in 1941," said Mark Ezell, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, at the dedication of the marker on Monday. "This is really a historic destination that blends our past and our future."

Millie Dewitz, granddaughter of songwriter Mack Gordon, made the trek from Orlando to the Chattanooga Choo Choo to see the dedication of the marker in front of the historic attraction on Market Street.

"I'm excited because I love the song like everybody else does, and the fact that my grandfather made it famous means the world to me," Dewitz said.

The song was originally recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra for the 1941 movie "Sun Valley Serenade."

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" sold more than 1 million copies, and the enduring popularity of the song may have played a role in preserving the Chattanooga Choo Choo building, said Adam Kinsey, a principal with Choo Choo Partners.

"This building was built in 1909, and it was going to be demolished in 1970," Kinsey said.

Another railway station in downtown Chattanooga - Union Station - had been taken down, and the historic terminal on Market Street was next.

At one time, the station was a stop for up to 50 trains per day. Instead of demolishing it, developers chose instead to restore the building and bring it back to life, Kinsey said.

"I don't think they would have been successful without the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" song being written in 1941 and being the first gold record," Kinsey said.

Choo Choo Partners bought the complex out of bankruptcy in 1989, revamping it into an entertainment, dining, housing and hotel facility.

Tennessee Music Pathways, launched in 2018, connects visitors to the state's musical heritage. The 300 sites statewide stretch across all 95 counties and feature landmarks from seven genres of music.

One year ago, The Impressions got a marker along the statewide trail in front of Bessie Smith Hall on M.L. King Boulevard.

There has never been a more important time to highlight the historic attractions that define Chattanooga's history, said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who was among state and local officials who attended the dedication.

"We've seen as the pandemic has hit just how critical tourism is to the city of Chattanooga," he said. "It's so important for us to honor the legacy of the 'Chattanooga Choo Choo.'"

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.