Next to autonomous vehicles and commercial jetliners, trains seem antiquated. In the late 19th century, however, railroads were revolutionary. Like steam-powered stitches hand-sewn by a united nation, they brought the country together in ways never before possible. Not only was their construction an act of incredible teamwork, but the newfound freedom to travel long distances -- coast to coast -- opened up individuals and businesses alike to new ideas and new opportunities. Which is exactly what the best meeting planners try to accomplish with their meetings. Trains aren't just a relic of transportation past, therefore. For meeting professionals, they're also powerful symbols of success. Which makes train stations -- or former ones -- ideal meeting venues in which to communicate themes like vision, innovation, and teamwork. Here are five hotels that fit the bill.
The Crawford Hotel (Denver, CO)
Railroads opened up the American West to exploration and settlement. Colorado was a major destination, and Denver's Union Station was its hub. Originally opened in 1881, Union Station once again is a thriving cultural center in Colorado's capital city over a century later thanks to a massive restoration and revitalization that was completed in 2014. The "new" Union Station is still a rail hub -- it includes connections to Amtrak and Denver's light rail transit system -- but also houses bars, restaurants, retail stores, and a hotel: The Crawford Hotel, which has 112 guest rooms and 3,000 square feet of meeting space, not to mention at 40,000-square-foot plaza for outdoor events. The hotel offers private tours of Union Station for meeting groups and a "Pullman" class of rectangular guest rooms inspired by luxury train sleeping cars.Union Station Hotel (Nashville, TN)
Denver's isn't the only Union Station to get a much-needed makeover recently. Nashville's Union Station also is enjoying a renaissance thanks to a $15 million redevelopment project that was completed last year. Originally opened in 1900, the former rail station in its day hosted travelers such as movie starlet Mae West and mobster Al Capone, who was escorted through the station on his way to Georgia penitentiary. The property was abandoned in 1979 but became a boutique hotel in 1986. The hotel was re-dedicated in 2007 after an $11 million renovation and joined Marriott's Autograph Collection in 2012 prior to its most recent facelift, which was completed in October 2016. Today, Union Station Hotel has 125 guest rooms and 13,000 square feet of meeting space, not to mention numerous historical features that have survived from its rail days, including the main attraction: a 65-foot, barrel-vaulted lobby ceiling featuring gold-leaf medallions and 100-year-old stained glass.The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel (Chattanooga, TN)
Looming even larger than Nashville in Tennessee's -- and the nation's -- rail history was Chattanooga, whose Union Station was built in 1858 and demolished much to the dismay of preservationists in 1973. The city's other major rail depot, Terminal Station, almost met the same fate but was saved from the wrecking ball by a group of local businessmen who purchased it and turned it into a hotel. Inspired by the lyrics of the famous song "Chattanooga Choo Choo" -- which honored Cincinnati Southern Railroad's famous wood-burning steam locomotive: the Chattanooga Choo Choo Train -- the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel opened in 1973 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. It was renovated for the first time in 1989, and received another massive makeover in 2014, when the property was turned into a destination with several restaurants and entertainment venues, as well as the new Songbirds Guitar Museum. In its current iteration, the hotel boasts 251 guest rooms -- including 48 inside Pullman train cars -- and 45,000 square feet of meeting space, not to mention the largest model train display in the South, with 120 locomotives, 1,000 freight cars, 80 passenger cars, and 3,000 feet of track.Kimpton Hotel Monaco Baltimore Inner Harbor (Baltimore, MD)
Baltimore's Inner Harbor screams "boats." At Kimpton Hotel Monaco Baltimore Inner Harbor (pictured above), however, it's rail transportation that gets its due. Located in a historic building that was built in 1906 as the headquarters of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad -- America's first chartered rail common carrier and one of four railroads you'll recognize from the board game "Monopoly" -- the hotel has 202 guest rooms and over 10,000 square feet of meeting space. Although it's not onsite, nearby is the B&O Railroad Museum, which purports to have "the oldest, most comprehensive American railroad collection in the world." Located at the original site of the Mt. Clare Shops, the oldest railroad manufacturing complex in the United States, the museum includes nearly 200 pieces of locomotives and rolling stock from 1830 through the present day, not to mention hundreds of thousands of small artifacts such as tools, time-pieces, art, presentation silver, uniforms, furniture, and personal memorabilia.Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel Scranton (Scranton, PA)
Scranton is nicknamed "The Electric City" because it was home to the nation's first successful, continuously operating electrified streetcar system. Established in 1886, the system comprised numerous streetcar companies that consolidated into the Scranton Railway Company in 1896 and ran trolleys through the city until 1954. The city's electric-transit history may loom large, but its steam-powered history is just as interesting. You can experience it firsthand at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel Scranton, which in another life was a passenger depot for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. Built in 1908, the building is known for its limestone exterior, the 8-foot bronze clock on its façade, and its grand waiting area, which features Italian marble columns and a barrel-vaulted, Tiffany stained-glass ceiling. The latter is now the lobby of the hotel, which has 170 guest rooms and 13,000 square feet of meeting space.