Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Swannanoa ... Afton Mountain mansion

Swannanoa, Major James Dooley's Afton Mountaintop home circa 1912.

Barb looks at the ornate front door. She and I stopped by last week to check out the schedule for upcoming tours.

Visitors leaving Shenandoah National Park on the Skyline Drive or meandering along the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Rockfish Gap at Afton Mountain may do a double-take as they catch a glimpse through the trees of white marble towers. Most have no idea of the grand mansion named Swannanoa that sits nearby.

The property, located just off I-64 between Waynesboro and Charlottesville, Virginia, at the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Augusta and Nelson counties, was the summer villa of Major James Dooley, a millionaire and philanthropist who also owned the Maymont mansion located on the James River in Richmond.

An opulent white Italianate marble mansion built in 1912, Swannanoa is a curiosity to hikers and travelers who have sometimes found their way off the Parkway and up the long private drive, amazed at this seemingly out-of-place structure in the middle of nowhere.

Construction began in 1904 and it took 300 artisans eight years to build, following the popular style of the time preferred by the industrialists of the late 1800s and early 1900s. No expense was spared to create extensive terraced Italian gardens, fountains, and an ornate stain glass window located on the magnificent marble balcony landing.

Embracing the latest in technology available at the time, Tiffany windows and gold indoor plumbing fixtures were installed and, as the first residence in Nelson County to have electricity, it also boasted an elevator.

To complete the ornate Italianate style, the house has such features as towers, arches, capped columns, balconies, brackets, cornices, and dentil molding creating an artistic feast for the eye.

Swannanoa is majestic even in its rundown condition, but extensive repairs would be necessary to restore it to its original opulent state. Marble slabs have fallen off stairway walls and the house itself. Walkways are cracked. A recent visit revealed a broken window, and marble steps have cracks that require attention to navigate.

For the curious, weekend tours of the property will begin in April and continue through October for those who want a closer view of a place that is a reminder of an earlier time in history when millionaires lived on Afton Mountain.
See more photos at Swannanoa ... the formal gardens.

Cross-posted at The Washington Examiner

Photos by SWAC Girl
Lynn Mitchell
24 March 2010

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I absolutely have the most memorable vacation as a child visiting Swannanoa in the early 70's and again once I graduated in 1980. Leo Russell was breathtakingly beautiful to me as a small child. The groundskeeper allowed my mother, sister, girlfriend and me to picnic on the grounds while we stayed at the Holiday Inn on Afton Mountain. I only wish that I was a millionaire so that I could restore the mansion that brought so much peace and comfort with memories of childhood to me for the rest of the world to feel. I bought a book entitled LOVE from Leo Russell as I left once grown and wish I still had it...such simple pleasures of life long ago. The statue of Christ was spectacular. I think it was 75ft tall. I am now married with two girls 13 and 10 yrs old. Was planning to see the fall leaves changing next weekend but will try to work on my husband to take us there! Thank you all who made a difference in MY life and all of those you touched. God Bless! Will keep you in my prayers! Love, Suzanne Bird

Fondest Memories,
Mrs. Suzanne Bird
Franklin, Virginia