What’s so special about the marble palace on Afton Mountain, called Swannanoa Palace? Besides its architectural wonder and mountain top location, Swannanoa Palace also possesses a remarkable 100 year plus history of famous people and happenings in Virginia. Beginning with the Civil War era Dooley family of Richmond, Va., to the early 19th Century visionary artist couple Walter and Lao Russell to present day hauntings and events, the marble walls of Swannanoa Palace live and breathe into the 21st Century.
According to Wikipedia, Swannanoa Palace is registered with both the U.S. National Register of Historic Places (as of October 1, 1969) and the Virginia Landmarks Register (as of either April 28 or June 2, 1969, or even May 16, 1973; online documentation is not precise). On top of all that history and historic registry data, the views from Swannanoa Palace are simply spectacular. Afton Mountain sits at the top of Interstate 64 and splits the valley between Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Nelson County and Augusta County. There are views off to each side, and the Blue Ridge Parkway runs just below the top of the mountain where Swannanoa Palace was built.
Swannanoa Palace is described variously as an “Italianate marble palace” an “Italian renaissance revival villa” or the more simple, “American estate”. Seeing is believing, perhaps. According to a Virginia travel planning site, James Dooley built the 52-room mansion for his wife Sally May, hiring over 300 artisans to complete the task. Base materials and works of art and technology at Swannanoa Palace kept pace with the morays of the Gilded Age and the Rockefeller rich and famous days of the early 1900s. A short listing of Swannanoa Palace features include:
- 726 acres of terraced Italian gardens
- Two four story towers
- A three story main building
- A water tower
- Basement servant quarters for 12 servants
- A grand entrance hall with Red Sienna and white Carrara marble
- Brick construction with white Alabama marble on the exterior walls
- Marble relief carvings
- Mahogany doors
- Bronze heat registers
- A Louis C. Tiffany Studios stained glass window
- A Florentine style dining room
- A Persian style den…
- And the grandeur continues with modern conveniences like telephones, bathrooms, and electrical generators. The Waynesboro Public Library created a multi-page PDF detailing all the specifics.
It is speculated that the architecture and floor plans of Swannanoa Palace are based on the Villa de Medici of Rome, with the personalized addition of a 4,000 piece Tiffany stained-glass window featuring Sally May herself in Roman attire, in a garden of marble columns and flowers. According to a Virginia travel site, constructions costs totaled $2 million in 1912.
On tripadvisor.com, Swannanoa Palace is described anywhere from “worth a visit” to “an old lady in need of attention” to the “what a jerk [referring to the current owner]” and “sadly beautiful”. This may be one of those situations where it is best to experience this Historic Landmark for yourself. After reading about the skill and expertise required to create the American mansion/palace, it might become easier to comprehend what is required to maintain Swannanoa Palace’s artistry. It is true the 100 year old structure is in need of repair, but it’s original glory is still visible for all who wish to view it.
Today, Swannanoa Palace (located at 497 Swannanoa Lane, Afton, VA 22920) is just one more reason to visit Nelson County. The property is available to the general public to host private events, for weddings or to tour during special Open House weekends; contact 540.942.5201 for more information. Paranormal activities are also suspected in the area (Read more. ). According to The Hook in 2010, the current owner of the property is James F. “Phil” Dulaney.