Moments in Memory: How a Terminal Station turned into a tourist attraction

Moments in Memory: How a Terminal Station turned into a tourist attraction

August 25th, 2019 by Tierra Hayes in Local Regional News

Times Free Press Archives

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Times Free Press Archives

Times Free Press Archives

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

 

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, 1909, the fifth page of the Chattanooga Times featured a headline announcing the grand opening of the Chattanooga Terminal set to start operations the next day: "Lights are turned on, New Terminal Station is Brightly Illuminated," it read.

And although it didn't make the front page that day, the terminal would continue to make the news for years to come.

In its coverage on opening day, Dec. 1, 1909, the Times said there would be no mourning for the old terminal as the new "handsome" station was quickly surrounded by activity.

"More importance attaches itself to this opening day of December perhaps than ever marked the day in the history of Chattanooga because of the Chattanooga Terminal," reads the opening of the report.

And on the next day, alongside the usual ads promising tonics and the latest phonograph, readers could find a half-page advertisement for the same bricks used to construct the terminal, with a featured illustration of the station, the closest the early reports got to a visual representation of what the building looked like since the publication lacked photographs at the time.

The terminal would serve as a hub for industry and passenger travel for many years, even hosting the likes of Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.

But by the second half of the century, the train station was seeing less and less traffic as newer forms of transportation became more popular, and by 1970 the terminal was running its last routes.

On Aug. 11, 1970 the News Free Press covered the last ride on its front page. and on Aug. 12 the Times detailed the last Birmingham Special, a route from Chattanooga to Birmingham, Alabama.

"There goes history," a bystander told the News Free Press.

But as anyone familiar with the Chattanooga area knows, that wasn't the end of the utility of the building.

While the Terminal was slated a similar fate to the Chattanooga Union Station, which was demolished in 1973, local business men pitched in to save the building in 1972, under inspiration from Glenn Miller's popular "Chattanooga Choo Choo" song.

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The old train station reopened as the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hilton and Entertainment Complex on April 11, 1973, and much like the opening day 64 years prior, the newspapers in the area covered the grand unveiling.

"Choo Choo Opens today" the Times headline read.

Visitors were said to have "exhausted their supply of adjectives" and "captivated by the beauty" in their awe of the revamped station.

And today, the Choo Choo is a popular tourist attraction and hotel located at 1400 Market St. The hotel features rooms built in repurposed train cars to make "unique and one of a kind" experiences according to choochoo.com.

The Choo Choo is also home to an assortment of bars, restaurants, comedy shows and retail options.

And like the reporters in the Chattanooga Times alluded to on that first day in 1909, the Chattanooga Terminal station would be an important part of Chattanooga's history and culture, even 110 years later.

Contact Tierra Hayes at tierrahayes@southern.edu.


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