Saturday, August 7, 2021

The History of Union Station, Nashville, TN

By Michelle Shocklee

I love historic buildings. You too? When I take a tour or wander freely (my favorite!) through an old building, my imagination goes wild, with dozens of questions filtering through my mind at the speed of light. Who walked where I walked? What's their story? What secrets do the walls hold? And on and on.

Union Station Hotel (Trip Advisor)
Hence is the case with Union Station in Nashville, Tennessee. The moment I saw this beautiful old building I knew I had to find out more about it.

Union Station, 1900. Tennessee State Library
In 1900, the first trains to roll through Union Station were operated by the Louisville & Nashville and the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis railroads. Engine No. 5 of the NC&StL's was given the honor of being the first train to stop at the terminal. For the next seventy-eight years, thousands of passengers would arrive in Nashville via trains with names like Dixie Flyer, Dixieland, Floridian, and the Carolina Special. The station was also used by streetcars prior to their discontinuance in Nashville in 1941.

The striking building is built in the architectural style described as Richardson Romanesque. The entire building, designed by Richard Monfort, chief engineer for the L&N, is made of gray stone and marble from right here in Tennessee. The total cost at the turn of the century came to $300,000. I'm not good at math but even I know that would be in the millions of dollars in today's money.   

A bronze statue of Mercury, the mythical Roman god of speed, stood atop the clock tower, which housed an early version of a digital clock. Unfortunately the statue was blown off in the 1950s by a tornado. 

Leaving for war, 1943. Tennessee State Library

In 1943, Union Station served as a shipping-out point for thousands of soldiers headed to war. 

Saying goodbye, 1943. Tennessee State Library

Waiting area, 1970. Tennessee State Library
Sadly, train travel began its decline in the 1960s, forcing many stations to close. By 1978, with less than six trains per day, Union Station joined them. Preliminary plans to convert the building into a federal office complex fell through, and Union Station was eventually sold to hotelier Leon Moore of Gallatin, Tennessee. Determined to retain the original design, Mr. Moore employed local craftsmen and created a beautiful, up-to-code hotel. 

Today, Union Station is a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Nashville. The elegant lobby reminds visitors of bygone days when passengers waited for their trains. Well-appointed guest rooms now fill spaces where railroad offices were once located, and a restaurant and bar offer more than peanuts and a Coke. 

Someday I hope to splurge and stay a night or two in this lovely and fascinating place!
Union Station Hotel lobby. Wikipedia

Your turn. 
Have you traveled by train?
I haven't, so tell me about your experience!

Michelle Shocklee
is the author of several historical novels and is a Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at


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  1. Gorgeous building! We traveled by train through Alaska. I love railroads.

  2. When I was five (1952) we took a train from Los Angeles to Seattle. IT took 3 days, if I remember correctly. We had a stateroom, and I remember the sink was on the back of the door and pulled down ... like a Murphy sink! I've always loved trains. Even now, sometimes at night, if I awake, I can hear the freight train whistles a few miles away.

  3. Interesting article, Michelle. While writing my books set in 19th century Chicago and Wisconsin I have my characters on trains going into Chicago and back out to Lake Geneva, WI.

    Trains have always been a part of my life. Growing up in Lake Geneva, several trains came and went from the town's depot to and from Chicago. Some who lived in town would take the train to work. Not always all the way into the cty, but to towns over the state line in IL. I remember going on the train with my mom into Chicago to visit my dad when he was working a trade show in the city. Later, while I lived in Madison WI, working and going to school, I'd take the train home, traveling to Walworth, WI, a small town at the west end of Geneva Lake. That track was really bad by then and the train had to go quite slow through some parts. In the sixties I took a train out of Chicago to Washington DC with some members of my high school class for our NY/Washington trip. We stayed up all night going and slept six days later coming back LOL. Even today, commuter trains pass through my Chicago suburb daily, and if the wind is right and my window is open I can hear the train whistle in the distance. I've never taken another cross-country trip on the train, but would love to take one through the Canadian Rockies.

  4. Thanks for posting. What a beautiful place! I took a commuter train with a friend from CT to NYC. That's all. I'd love to do one of the scenic rides they offer around where I live but we haven't done it yet.

  5. I love the idea of turning a train station into a hotel. I've ridden the train several times. Aurora is the last stop on the metro line to Chicago. Beats driving in the traffic, especially if your destination is a downtown venue.There is also a train museum in Union Illinois that has various types of trains on display. Someday my husband and I would like to take a train trip to the west coast just to enjoy the view and the fun of it.

  6. Thank you, ladies, for your comments! I love hearing your stories of traveling by rail!! Fun times!