Why a vintage train car at the Crowne Plaza is the best hotel stay in Indianapolis

Until recently, I could never say that I had unlocked the door to my hotel room, swung it open and called out “all aboard!” to my kids.

This stay changed that.

Every hotel has a story to tell, some more exciting than others. At the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station, there are many interesting characters included in the tale, such as Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison.

First, though, let’s talk about that hotel room.

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Train car room with painting of the hotel’s Grand Hall. (Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

This particular room has wheels and spent decades traveling in and out of Indianapolis’ historic Union Station during its previous life as a real, working train car. Though the furnishings and decor were similar to those of other rooms in the hotel, the character far surpassed any standard hotel room I’ve stayed in.

The hotel now stands on the site of the station’s longtime train shed.

Today, the hotel features 273 guest rooms — including the 13 Pullman train cars from the 1920s. The cars were rolled in on the original tracks and locked into place before the hotel was built around them. Each one was converted into two hotel rooms, for a total of 26 Pullman train car rooms. Rooms offer either one king or two double beds.

(Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points guy)

Each car is now emblazoned with the name of a prominent figure from the time. We stayed in the car named after Rudolph Valentino — a popular silent film actor in the 1920s. Some other cars are named for Amelia Earhart, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill.

(Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)We had to climb up a short flight of steps to reach our room. This gave us the feeling that we were actually boarding a train for an exciting journey rather than stepping into a stationary hotel room for the night (though this also means the train car rooms are not accessible).

Once inside, the only obvious indication that we were inside a former railroad sleeper car was the long, narrow layout of the room. In another situation, I may have been put off by the fact that there was barely enough room for one person to squeeze between the bed or that passersby could look directly into our room if we neglected to close the window shades. However, because I was living my best train car life, I found it overwhelmingly charming.

Stationed just outside our room — and all over the hotel, actually — were eerie, white “ghost statues.” The statues are dressed in era-appropriate garb from the heyday of train travel and serve as a constant reminder of the hotel’s past. You can see a conductor checking his watch, passengers waiting for their train and a young boy selling newspapers to passengers.

The statues weren’t the only relics of the hotel’s past. Most of the exposed iron beams in the public areas, such as the lobby and indoor pool, are original; the large skylights were once open-air vents where smoke could escape from the trains.

Eventually, the ghost statues beckoned us deeper into the hotel, leading us down a set of stairs that took us to the original 1888 “head house.” This area where travelers once bought their tickets and waited for their trains is now a venue for weddings and events; still, many of the original details remain.

(Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

The head house, which is now referred to as the Grand Hall, the head house feels almost frozen in time. Designed in the Roman Revival-style, the Grand Hall’s 60-foot barrel vault ceiling holds more than 3,000 square feet of original stained glass, including two stained glass wagon wheel windows that span 20 feet in diameter.

Outside the Grand Hall, the directional signage that once helped travelers find the correct track still hangs above the stairwells, and much of the original tile is still intact. I even stepped behind the ticket counter, imagining the many transactions that had taken place there over the years.

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Then, of course, there are those characters who are forever tied to this station-turned-hotel’s story. Thomas Edison worked at Union Station as a telegraph operator in 1861 (before the current building was constructed), and he was fired for conducting “too many useless experiments,” according to the hotel’s website.

(Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

Abraham Lincoln passed through the station twice — once on the way to Washington, D.C. for his inaugural address, the other en route to Illinois to lie in state after his assassination in 1865.

Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower also traveled through Union Station, though under better circumstances.

(Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

My family couldn’t help but do a bit of play-acting as train conductors and passengers during our stay at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station.

Certainly, the station’s artful preservation sparked our creative juices. I also have a sneaking suspicion we were inspired by the vision of the passengers who boarded trains at the station each month during the heyday of train travel nearly a century ago.

Featured photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy.