Swannanoa Palace, Afton, Virginia (Where Gumbo was #224)


The answer to this week's travel puzzle eluded everyone, with no correct solutions submitted.



Gumbo was visiting beautiful Swannanoa Palace, built high atop Afton Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in 1912.  Exterior is white marble from Georgia, interior was Italian Carrara and Siena marble.  There are 52 rooms in this 23,000 square foot villa. 

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Major James Henry Dooley was a wealthy Richmond lawyer, philanthropist and wounded Confederate war veteran, and cofounder of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, which ran down the southeast coast line and also over to Atlanta and Birmingham. He was instrumental in the economic recovery of the south after the Civil War. 

Major Dooley had the palace built as a summer home.  His primary residence was the Maymont mansion in Richmond, Virginia, but he wanted a place where he could escape the worries of his business and as a respite from the summer heat and humidity of the city.  He later donated Maymont and its property to the City of Richmond and it is now a famous Virginia public park with a museum, arboretum, garden and nature center.



Major Dooley served as the mayor of Richmond and sat on the Virginia legislature.  In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge spent 5 days and Thanksgiving Day at Swannanoa.


The primary motif of a swan was a symbol of peace and grace that his wife had chosen and the cherub symbol was for fertility though the couple had no children.  On the first flight of the grand staircase is a 10 foot high Tiffany stained glass window of James Dooley’s beloved wife, Sallie May.




In 1892, Mrs. Dooley became the founding regent of Virginia’s first chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Old Dominion Chapter.  She was also a charter member of the Society of the Colonial Dames in the State of Virginia, a member of the Order of the Crown (Americans of royal descent), and a supporter of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and the Virginia Historical Society. 


James Henry Dooley passed away in 1922 and left Swannanoa to his wife Sallie May who passed away shortly thereafter in 1925.  It was said that she died while laying in the Swan Bed which has since been moved from Swannanoa to the Maymont mansion.

swan bed at maymontSallie May bequeathed the palace to James Dooley’s two sisters who then sold it to new owners who then sold it to others.  Tours of the palace are conducted a few days each month. 


In a 1936 University of Richmond thesis by Robert Harris, it was stated that Swannanoa was one of the most beautiful estates ever built and none in Virginia and few in the United States could match its splendor. 

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