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Swannanoa (mansion)

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Title: Swannanoa (mansion)  
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Subject: James H. Dooley, National Register of Historic Places listings in Virginia, Swannanoa, Nelson County, Virginia, National Register of Historic Places listings in Nelson County, Virginia
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Swannanoa (mansion)

Swannanoa (mansion) is located in Virginia
Location S of jct. of State Route 610 and U.S. Route 250, Augusta County and Nelson County, Virginia, United States
Nearest city Waynesboro, Virginia
Area 590 acres (240 ha)
Built 1913
Architect Baskerville & Noland
Architectural style Renaissance Revival, Italian Renaissance
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 69000221[1]
VLR # 062-0022
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 1, 1969
Designated VLR May 16, 1978[2]

Swannanoa is an Italian Renaissance Revival villa built in 1912 by millionaire and philanthropist James H. Dooley (1841–1922) above Rockfish Gap on the border of northern Nelson County and Augusta County, Virginia, in the USA. It is partially based on buildings in the Villa Medici, Rome.

Rockfish Gap is the southern end of the Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park and the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

It is located on the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains, overlooking both Shenandoah and Rockfish valleys. It is located on a jurisdictional border, so it is in both Augusta and Nelson counties.[3]


  • History 1
  • Gallery 2
  • Notable visitors 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Intended to be a "summer place" for marble, Tiffany windows, gold plumbing fixtures, and terraced gardens. Built as a token of love from husband to wife, the depth of James and Sallie May’s relationship was represented in the 4,000 piece Tiffany stained-glass window and a domed ceiling bearing the likeness of Mrs. Dooley [4] Despite the lavish expenditure, it was occupied only for a few years following completion in 1912.[5]

Major Dooley died in 1924 at the age of 82. He left Swannanoa entirely to his wife, Sally Mae, along with several million dollars. Sallie May Dooley died in 1926 at the age of 79. She left the estate to Major Dooley's two sisters.

When the property was built it had state-of-the-art fixtures for the time. Electricity and plumbing were installed in the house. It was the first house to have electricity in Nelson County and to accomplish this it had its own power plant on the property. There also was a built in elevator. Like Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's house 27 miles away, it had a dumbwaiter to bring food up from the basement kitchen to the dining room on the first floor.

The sisters sold Swannanoa in 1926 to the Valley Corporation of Richmond, which became the second owner of Swannanoa. They planned and opened a country club in 1929 and closed in 1932. During that time they built the stone building on the property rumored to house the region's best moonshine distillery and which was a favored supplier for government officials during Prohibition.[6] The golf course was an 18-hole course. It was during Swannanoa's time as a country club that Calvin Coolidge had Thanksgiving dinner (1928) at the mansion. The sumptuous accommodations and isolation from the Capitol's hubbub seemed to affect Mrs. Coolidge deeply, giving her "the giddiness of a mare in the spring" according to the waitstaff. Calvin was typically silent on the subject, but seemed rather drawn and sleepy for the next day's hunting.[7]

The mansion was empty from 1932 until 1942, when A.T. Dulaney formed Skyline Swannanoa, Inc. Dulaney and nine other stockholders purchased Swannanoa and became the third owners of the property.

The United States Navy considered purchasing and renovating the property in 1942, which they calculated would cost $200,000, for the purpose of establishing a secret facility to interrogate prisoners of war. The military rejected it in favor of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Fort Hunt, Virginia, code named P. O. Box 1142, because it seemed unlikely that Congress would approve the purchase of such a palatial structure for the purpose.[8] The mansion stood empty through the Great Depression and World War II until it was leased in 1949 to Walter Russell for his University of Science and Philosophy.[9][10]

Walter Russell died in 1962, his wife Lao died in 1988. The University of Science and Philosophy decided to leave the property and gave up their lease in 1998. In 1999 Skyline Swannanoa, Inc. started major renovations on the property.

Today the property is owned by J. F. Dulaney, Jr., of Charlottesville, who has been attempting to sell tours of the first floor.

Currently small group tours, open houses and weddings are being held on the property and there are plans for a bed-and-breakfast in the future.


Notable visitors

  • President Calvin Coolidge and his wife visited nearby Swannanoa Country Club on Thanksgiving Day 1928. Whether or not the Coolidges actually visited Swannanoa mansion is unknown.[11] But from another source, the Swannanoa Country Club was this mansion building, and he did visit the building.[3]

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  2. ^ "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission staff (April 28, 1969). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Swannanoa" (PDF). Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  4. ^ Swannanoa: A History. The News Virginian Nov 6, 2007. KW Stanley.
  5. ^ F.R. Moon & Co. (1929). Auction sale! : Saturday, Oct. 26, 1929 ... : acting for Mrs. J.H. Dooley, we will sell the following articles. S.l: s.n. OCLC 19915554.
  6. ^ R.C. Byrd. (1977) "Bootleggers and Carpetbaggers: The History of Contraband in the Central Appalachias"
  7. ^ The Waynesboro News, November 29, 1928.
  8. ^ John Hammond Moore (Spring 1978). "Getting Fritz to Talk".  
  9. ^ Russell, W., & Russell, L. (1957). Romance of beautiful Swannanoa, marble palace and sculpture gardens : a mountain-top paradise. Waynesboro, Va: University of Science and Philosophy. OCLC 59143234
  10. ^ Russell, W., & Russell, L. (1958). Announcement of purpose and objective of the University of Science and Philosophy : a world university for self-transcendency, with home study course information. Waynesboro, Va: Walter & Lao Russell. OCLC 26409679.
  11. ^ ""Skunked"". Time (1928-12-10).

External links

  • Sizemore, Donna. "Swannanoa: An Afton Mountain Palace". Curio, Summer 1980. James Madison University: Harrisonburg, VA. 15-19.
  • Gallery of Swannanoa images from the University of Science and Philosophy
  • Video of the Russell years at Swannanoa from University of Science and Philosophy.
  • "Swannanoa's owner holds tight to history" The News Leader, Staunton, VA; August 19, 2012.
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