Historic Structures

Chattanooga Union Railroad Station, Chattanooga Tennessee

Date added: May 30, 2022 Categories: Tennessee Train Station

The Chattanooga Union Station was of great importance to the history of railroading in Tennessee. It was the terminal for the first railroad, the Western and Atlantic, to enter the state. It was also the first union station, that is, built by the joint effort of more than one railroad, in the state. During the Civil War, it occupied a very strategic position, and troops of both the Confederate and Union armies passed through the station on many occasions. In Miller's Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 7, pages 35 and 37, captured Confederate soldiers on their way to Northern prisons are shown in front of the Chattanooga Union Station awaiting transportation. Many important leaders, both political and military, came through the station during the Civil War and on up to the time of more convenient and commodious means of travel.

For approximately seventy years the Union Station was the home of the famous Confederate locomotive, the General, which was involved in the famous locomotive chase during the Civil War. Much litigation has taken place over the ownership of the General, and it is presently located in Georgia.

Perhaps even more important to the city of Chattanooga is the fact that the Union Station is the oldest extant structure in the city, and perhaps the only one pre-dating the Civil War. Highway projects and other programs have almost completely removed the evidences of Chattanooga's early history. This emphasizes the tremendous importance of the Union Station to the area.

The Union Station in Chattanooga, probably typical of such railroad stations in the Mid-Nineteenth century in small junction towns, as Chattanooga then was, has no great architectural distinction. In fact, it is not certain that it was the work of an architect, although credit is sometimes given to a civil engineer, E.A. Vineent. Vineent designed the counterpart of the Chattanooga Union Station, the Atlanta Union Station which was the southern terminal of the Western and Atlantic Railroad of the State of Georgia, and which was destroyed by Sherman in 1864.

The original Union Station in Chattanooga was the old train shed, built in 1858, a purely utilitarian building. It was a huge, overhanging concave shed resting on arches of brick masonry and protecting six lines of track, with the necessary waiting rooms, baggage room, and ticket office across the front, or northern, end. An intricate system of wood trusses supported the roof.

Today, approximately one-third of the original shed remains, the remainder having been demolished in 1926-27 when the railroad management decided that the modern "butterfly-sheds" were more practical.

In 1881 an addition was made to the existing train shed. This new structure, which still exists, was two stories and extended from the end of the train shed to the sidewalk on Ninth Street. Of Victorian design, the brick building was trimmed with white stone.

It contained, according to newspaper accounts of the day, "... the usual passenger waiting-rooms, an Emigrant's room..., a restaurant and a lunch-table, baggage-room and ticket-offices."

By the 1970s the station presented a forlorn appearance, with only one passenger train each way per day, attracting only a handful of travelers, a great contrast to a half-century ago when the cries of porters and trainmen and the puffing of the huge coal-fired engines reverberated down from the huge concave shed overhead.

Within months of the completion of the above-described addition, a new freight depot was built on Ninth Street, on the lot adjoining the Union Station. Its construction conformed closely to that of the Union Station. This freight depot was demolished in 1969.

The rest of the station was demolished in 1973.