Text & Photos By Thomas Wilmer
The Chattanooga Choo Choo—whenever I think of the enchanting riverside city in Tennessee, Glen Miller’s classic, 1940s Big Band hit inevitably starts playing in my mind. Locals get it too—Even though the distinguished circa-1909 Chattanooga train station no longer serves as a rail depot, its been reincarnated as the historic Choo Choo Hotel. You can even book a room for the night in a railcar. Locals are frequently heard to say, “meet me at the Choo Choo”—and everyone knows they’re not talking about the Little Engine that Could.
It all makes perfect sense, as Chattanooga’s history is tightly interwoven with rail transportation. Rail service predates the Civil War with the completion of the first line to Atlanta in 1850. And it was the city’s strategic rail junction rather than river transportation that spurred the bloody Battle of Chickamauga in the fall of 1863.
Modern day Chattanooga is a trend-setting, happening destination but the legacy of the Civil War and the Battle of Chickamauga remains none-the-less palpable—especially with the legendary battlegrounds such as Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge overlooking the city (six miles from town). A visit to Chattanooga would not be complete without a visit to the nearby Chickamauga National Battlefield, just across the border in Georgia.
Chattanooga hums with a dynamic, youthful energy that permeates the arts, culture, cuisine, and wide array of outdoor adventure activities—integral factors in the city’s recognition as one of America’s most livable cities by National Geographic Explorer Magazine.
The awesome annual Riverbend Festival draws more than 80,000 people per night throughout its nine-day run every June. The festival attracts major headliners—such as the Beach Boys and Huey Lewis and the News performing the two evenings we attended last summer. Since Riverbend’s inception in 1982 stellar performers such as Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Alabama, Ricky Scaggs, and the Pointer Sisters have rocked the house. Actually it’s not a house but a cool outdoor venue overlooking the Tennessee River.
Listen to Ruth Thompson with Chattanooga Parks & Rec., learn about the Southern Belle riverboat and the Chattanooga Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer catamaran: