Chattanooga cho cho/Trains/Award Program

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In 1838, the Western and Atlantic (W & A) line named Chattanooga its northern terminal for trains departing from Atlanta. On December 1, 1849 W & A operated the first train to Chattanooga. Passengers and goods on board the train stopped at Tunnel Hill, were carried over the ridge in wagons, and resumed there train ride on the other side. This first train stopped at a temporary station. In 1850 W & A completed a tunnel through Tunnel Hill. On December 11, 1845 the Tennessee General Assembly chartered the Nashville & Chattanooga Railway (N & C). In 1852 the several railway companies operating in Chattanooga began building the Union Station located at the corner of 9th and Market. The station derived its name because more than one railroad united in its construction.  

Chattanooga’s Union Station ca. 1885
Courtesy Chattanooga Public Library
In 1853, since the Cumberland Mountains obstructed a direct rout to Chattanooga, passengers rode the N & C from Nashville to Bridgeport Alabama, concluding their trip to Chattanooga by riverboat. By 1857 Chattanooga had become a hub of rail travel in the South. The main structure of the Union depot was built in 1858. Pre-Civil War mainline railroad construction provided Chattanooga with rail service, while also contributing to its strategic military significance from 1861  1865.

On several occasions during the war, the shed at Union station served as a makeshift hospital for wounded soldiers from both sides.Economic opportunities in post-war Chattanooga, led John Stanton of Boston to invest $100,000 in 1871 on the construction of the Stanton House, a 100 room L-shaped hotel, in the 1400 block of Market Street. On September 4, 1875 the first trolley in Chattanooga began operation.

The Chattanooga Choo-Choo

In March of 1880, the first train of Cincinnati Southern Railway (CSR) rolled into town, creating the first major link between the North and South. A newspaper columnist nicknamed the train the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, a name that would later go down in history. The Choo-Choo crossed the Tennessee River seven miles north of Chattanooga, and two miles further, at Boyce, connected with five miles of the W & A line to Union Station. Eventually CSR constructed its own line parallel to that of W & A from Boyce to Chattanooga. The Chattanooga Choo-Choo would not become famous for another sixty-one years. In 1881 A brick depot was constructed at Union Station.

 

When Glenn Miller and his orchestra introduced the famous song “Chattanooga Choo- Choo” in 1941, the Tennessee city it referred to had been a railroad center for nearly a century. Mack Gordons lyrics from the Academy Award- nominated song trace the progress of the “Choo-Choo” from New Yorks Pennsylvania Station through Baltimore, the Carolinas, and into Track 29 of Chattanoogas sprawling Terminal Station. Arriving passengers were greeted by the bustle, sounds, smells, and opulence of a grand building that was a tribute to the towns importance as a southeastern transportation hub. Around Terminal Station were miles of crisscrossing tracks, acres of rail yards, and dozens of buildings that housed the industries, restaurants, hotels, shops, offices, and people of a town that evolved as a direct result of the rail industry.

Railroads both influenced and reflected American settlement and development from the 1830s to the 1950s. In the cities, they shaped and stimulated economic growth, planning, and architecture. Today, although railroads have lost much of their economic importance, evidence of their influence remains. Even in towns where trains no longer run, buildings, tracks, train beds, and place names attest to the enduring legacy of Americas rail history.

“Chattanooga Choo Choo” is a big-band/swing song which was featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade, which starred amongst others Sonja Henie, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, The Modernaires, Milton Berle and Joan Davis. It was performed in the film as an extended production number, featuring vocals by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and the Modernaires followed by a production number showcasing Dorothy Dandridge and an acrobatic dance sequence by The Nicholas Brothers. This was the #1 song across the United States on December 7 1941.

Today, one of the original trains has pride of place in Chattanooga’s former Terminal Station. Once owned and operated by the Southern Railway the station was saved from demolition after the withdrawal of passenger rail service in the early 1970s, and it is now part of a 30-acre (12-hectare) resort complex, including the Choo-Choo Holiday Inn and numerous historical railway exhibits. Hotel guests can stay in half of a restored passenger railway car. Dining at the complex includes the Gardens restaurant in the Terminal Station itself, The Station House (which is housed in a former baggage storage) and the “Dinner in the Diner” which is the complex’s fine dining venue, housed in a restored 1940s dining car. The city’s other historic station, Union Station, parts of which predated the Civil War, was demolished in 1973; its site is now a large office building. In addition to the railroad exhibits at “the Choo Choo”, there are further exhibits at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which is in the suburb of East Chattanooga.

The reputation given to the city by the song also lent itself to making Chattanooga the home of the National Model Railroad Association. In addition, the athletic mascot of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is a rather menacing-looking anthropomorphized mockingbird named Scrappy, who is dressed as a railroad engineman and is sometimes depicted at the throttle of a steam locomotive.

The Dixie Flyer originally was a named train that did pass through and stop in Chattanooga on its run from Chicago to Miami. That railroad, until 1957 was the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad (NC&StL). The NC&StL was merged into L&N in 1957. Now it is part of CSX.

The Southern Crescent did not go through Chattanooga, but there were at least three other Southern Railway trains that ran through Chattanooga direct to Washington and on to New York without changing trains. There was a change of locomotives between Bristol, Tennessee, and Lynchburg, Virginia; Norfolk and Western Railway operated the train on tht portion, turning it back over to the Southern at Lynchburg. The named trains on this route were the Pelican, Birmingham Special and Tennessean.

In 1968, the American musical group Harpers Bizarre released a cover version of the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, which reached #45 on the U.S. pop chart while spending two weeks at #1 on the Easy Listening chart (which would later be renamed the Adult Contemporary chart).

In the 1970s the tune was used in the UK on an advert for Toffee Crisp candy bars, starting with “Pardon me, boy, is that a Toffee Crisp you chew chew,” and ending with the final punch line “Chew chew Toffee crisp, the big value bar.”    [Top of page]

CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO
Glenn Miller
– from “Sun Valley Serenade”
– words by Mack Gordon, music by Harry Warren

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

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
Than 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

There’s gonna be
A certain party at the station
Satin and lace
I used to call “funny face”
She’s gonna cry
Until I tell her that I’ll never roam
So Chattanooga choo choo
Won’t you choo-choo me home?
Chattanooga choo choo