Monday, July 16, 2018


I’ve been working on a book of poetry about trains and have decided to stop where I am and publish it as is, thinking it’ll probably be the caboose of my poetry. However, that decision included one last tour of a historic train site — the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Train Terminal in downtown Chattanooga, which we visited last Friday. This visit remains the highlight of the series of tours we’ve enjoyed during our half-year stay at Sewanee, Tennessee. Vickie Sullivan’s photo of the interior of the terminal will probably become the cover illustration for my “caboose book.”

The Chattanooga terminal was designed by the architect Don Barber and was built in 1906 for 1.5 million dollars. In 1909, the first trains served as many as 50 passengers per day on the old Southern Railway, but by the 1960’s, railways had declined, and the “Birmingham Special” of The Southern made its last run in 1970. The terminal was set for demolition when investors stepped in and poured four million dollars into its restoration in 1973. Today, the old terminal has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a 24-acre complex that includes a museum of train models, a hotel, a rose garden, shops, and sleeper cars that attract train enthusiasts. The poem that I came away with says more about the Chattanooga Choo Choo song that Glenn Miller and his orchestra made famous than it does about the structure of the old terminal, but my memories of the visit to this beautifully-restored terminal have been in my thoughts for several days.

We ate lunch at Stirs Restaurant, just two doors from the main terminal entrance, where oysters from New Brunswick were offered at a peak price of $3 per oyster. My friend Vickie ordered two as an appetizer and decided that the food in this restaurant matched the elegance of the terminal. She also ordered crab bisque while I munched on a ciabatta sandwich because I’m allergic to shellfish. Oysters from Louisiana were also featured on the menu, and the manager told us that all oysters are guaranteed to be fresh as they are flown in daily. 

The hotel within the terminal offers rooms, starting at $180 a night, or we would’ve spent the night to further inspire atmosphere for the “caboose book” of poetry; however, my budget doesn’t include that kind of luxury. And I enjoyed free visual inspiration sans an overnight stay.

My Tourist Trains Guidebook contains 450 train rides and dinner trains, museums, trolleys, and depots, and if I’d continued to write about this favored subject, I’d still be riding when the Great Train pulled into my terminal to take me beyond… but I've traveled over some historic tracks and depot sites while pursuing material for Destinations, the title of this latest book of poetry. However, Whoo, whoo… Chattanooga Choo-Choo Train Terminal is the top attraction on my list of sites!

Photographs by Victoria Sullivan

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