Hearing the name, “Chattanooga,” always puts a smile on my face, because it sounds so funny to me as many Indian names do. “Chattanooga,” comes from the Creek Indian word for “rock coming to a point.” This refers to Lookout Mountain, one of the city’s major attractions. Although we fully intended to take in the views from Lookout Mountain, the haze over the region during our visit kept us from even getting out of our car. We took a quick drive around, and then headed back down to the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
The first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of Chattanooga is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the former train station that became a hotel in the 1970’s. Terminal Station, as the train station was originally called, was a large and modern station for its time. It became especially famous when Mack Gordon (lyrics) and Harry Warren (music) wrote about it in 1941 in their tune that Glenn Miller recorded, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” The song describes the journey of a train traveling from New York City along the Eastern Seaboard until its end at Terminal Station.
Unfortunately, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, rail traffic decreased and the station was ultimately closed. Then, in 1972, a group of businessmen bought the station and surrounding property. They renamed it “Chattanooga Choo Choo” after the Glen Miller song, and they opened up a hotel.
We didn’t stay at the ‘Choo Choo, because the reviews on Trip Advisor were a mediocre 3-1/2 out of 5. Anything less than a “4” rating on Trip advisor is an indication to me to give a place a miss for overnight stays.
The ‘Choo Choo, however, did serve as an excellent base for our daily visits to the city during our three-days in town. Adjacent to the hotel, there is a large covered public parking structure with reasonable parking rates that are less expensive than in the heart of downtown. In addition, CARTA’s free downtown electric shuttle departed from there, so we ditched our car in the lot each day and hopped on the shuttle for our trips to downtown and the North Shore across the river. It was a great way to get around, and we were impressed with Chattanooga for offering this green option that keeps a lot of cars off the downtown streets.
Before heading out on the shuttle, we first had a look around the ‘Choo Choo, so we could get a feel for what Terminal Station must have been like in its glory days.
Domed ceiling skylight
Downtown Chattanooga was a nice place to walk around, especially in the Riverfront district where the Tennessee Aquarium is located. The city did a wonderful job developing the riverfront with plenty of walking and biking paths, public art, and park space.
This clever brick work was in the Tennessee Aquarium plaza.
If you visit Chattanooga between early May and late August, try to plan your visit around “Nightfall,” the free downtown concert series that is held in Miller Plaza each Friday, between the first Friday in May and the last Friday in August. The opening act starts at 7 PM followed by a nationally touring headliner at 8 PM. It’s kid friendly and pet friendly, so grab your dog’s leash and bring your lawn chairs (unless you get there early enough to snag a provided chair), and spend the evening. There are food trucks and beer available, or you can bring your own picnic.
We opted instead to have pizza right next door at Community Pie, where they offer New York style, Detroit Style, and Neapolitan style pizzas you can watch them make behind the big glass kitchen window.
Actually, to be honest, we didn’t even know about the concert series. We had planned on eating at Community Pie, and the concert was a happy surprise. When we left the restaurant, we heard a live band warming up, so we wandered over to see what was going on. Cool! A free concert! While we waited for the music to start, we grabbed ourselves front-row seats and people-watched. I also headed over to the grass area to see the craft booths that were set up for the event. There was also a motorcycle show in the blocked off street near where the food trucks were parked, so I grabbed my camera and went to explore.
The entire scene of the well-planned event was just so perfect! What started as a nice surprise turned out to be a very enjoyable way to spend a summer evening. Watching the people happily listen or dance to the music, seeing the children and dogs having a good time, and observing a wide mix of people peacefully congregated to have fun was just a really pleasant, happy feeling.
Good on Nightfall and its sponsors for making that happen. Wrapping up its 32nd season, over the years, Nightfall has brought in a diverse line-up of artists representing many genres of music, and they have developed it into a great series for the entire community.
In my next post, we’ll visit the Bluff View Arts District and the North Shore.