I’m a little (okay, a lot) delinquent on this post, considering we visited Swannanoa in the Fall, right when those gorgeous changing leaves are about to be at their peak. Even though it’s been a few months since the visit, I couldn’t not share. Swannanoa is too beautiful not to share.
Swannanoa is nestled in the mountains in Afton, Virginia, about a thirty minute drive from Charlottesville, Va. I first heard of this abandoned mansion from my Aunt, who knows I love to visit old homes. She sent me a picture on my phone and instantly it was love, putting it on my list of must-see places. It took me a while to get there, but when I did, I was so pleased at the mild Fall weather and the gorgeous evergreens mixed with gold turning leaves enveloping us. The trip meant so much to me that it felt like the perfect weather and backdrop were created just for me to come explore.
Swannanoa was built in 1912 by millionaire James Dooley. This home was built with many fine features, including white marble on the outside, which is sadly missing pieces at this point. Dooley died in 1924, leaving his home to his wife, Sally Mae. When she passed, it was left to Dooley’s sisters, who sold Swannanoa in 1926 to the Valley Corporation of Richmond, who made it into a country club from 1929-1932. President Coolidge is said to have stayed there during that time during Thanksgiving one year. In 1942, the U.S. Navy considered buying and renovating the home to use as a secret facility for interrogation, but a different location was chosen. It was empty until 1949 when it was leased to Walter Russell, when he used it for University of Science and Philosophy. Even though he died in 1963, the university stayed until 1998. The home is now owned by James F. Dulaney Jr. and is open the majority of the year for touring. We called before we went to ensure that it would be open, as occasionally it is closed from touring on the weekends. Be sure to bring cash if you go for a visit to pay the small fee for touring the home.
Reading the history of the home, it was always fascinating to me how many times the home changed hands and how there were periods of time when no one was occupying the home. I remember reading somewhere when I first looked into Swannanoa, how a guy who had grown up in the area would roller skate in the home as a kid with his friends since it was abandoned. And of course this home has cultivated it’s own ghost stories as well, as any old and abandoned home would.
An intricate staircase with a velvet banister greets you when you walk in as well as this fireplace to match.
The dining room.
The breakfast nook off the dining room.
The cigar room, which ended up being one of my most favorite rooms in the home with the Indian inspired decor.
The stained glass window at the top of the stairs was dedicated to Mrs. Dooley from her husband and is in her likeness.
Towards the back of the property is the old water tower. Coming upon this part took my breath away and I felt like I was in a fairy tale for a little while! I became obsessed with this part of our visit, snapping a good handful of this area. I don’t think it was possible to take a bad picture!
This was probably one of my most favorite places to visit ever. Swannanoa stayed on my mind for days after I had left, already aching to go back.