Chattanooga: So Much More Than the Choo Choo


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Nestled in the southeast corner of Tennessee, Chattanooga might not leap to mind as a likely place to visit.

A strategic river and railway crossroads during the Civil War and site of brutal military battles as a result, the town boomed and then busted over the course of the 20th century.

Today, Terminal Station stands as part of the world famous Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel located in the heart of Chattanooga. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Terminal Station stands as part of the world famous Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel located in the heart of Chattanooga. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From 1909 to 1970, all trains to points south passed through Chattanooga’s famous terminal, which was designed by a 24-year-old architectural student from New York. The terminal’s first plans were modified at the behest of the president of the Southern Railway System to emulate the National Park Bank of New York.

Glenn Miller gave Chattanooga some extra attention when he performed the big-band swing tune “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941 about its rich railroad history.

Today, Terminal Station stands as part of the world famous Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel located in the heart of Chattanooga. The 24-acre complex boasts two hotel buildings, on-site dining, retail shops, tranquil rose gardens, and much more.

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel lobby. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel lobby. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the wake of an ugly EPA report, in 1969 Walter Cronkite declared it the “dirtiest city in America.”

But visionary revitalization, coupled with abundant natural beauty, a burgeoning cultural scene and rich history, now put Chattanooga near the top of the list as a slightly-off-the-beaten-track destination.

The Incline Railway provides an easy and spectacular commute up and down Lookout Mountain, which looms over Chattanooga with views of the Tennessee River winding through the city below and the verdant hills and valleys of the Appalachians stretching to the horizon.

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel lobby. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel lobby. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opened in 1895, the Incline Railway transports passengers up and down the steepest part of the mountain. The 1-mile train trip is, in places, closer to an elevator ride.

Near the top of Lookout Mountain, the incline reaches 72.7 percent, making it the steepest passenger train in the world. The original coal-burning steam engines were replaced by two 100-horsepower motors in 1911, but other than that the railway hasn’t changed much in its more than 120 years of operation.

Worth Pondering…

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Hi there Tex, what you say
Step aside partner, it’s my day
Bend an ear and listen to my version
Of a really solid Tennessee excursion

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga choo choo? (yes yes)
Track twenty-nine
Boy, you can gimme a shine
Can you afford To board a Chattanooga choo choo
I’ve got my fare And just a trifle to spare

Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You leave the Pennsylvania Station ’bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner
Nothing could be finer
Then to have your ham an’ eggs in Carolina

When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in
Gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga there you are

—Songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, first recorded 1941 by Glenn Miller

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