Visit Afton’s Marble Palace
There are a lot of ways to tell someone how much you love them. For some, it’s a bouquet of flowers, the simplicity of those three words, or a romantic getaway at your favorite bed and breakfast. James Dooley, a Gilded Age millionaire, philanthropist, and Civil War veteran, thought a bit bigger. His gift to his wife, Sallie, was the construction of a massive and extravagant marble palace. It's called "Swannanoa", and it sits on the crest of nearby Afton Mountain.
It took hundreds of artisans to carefully craft, cut, and carve the palatial Georgian marble, gold plumbing fixtures, terraced gardens, dumbwaiter, and elevator. The house was so far ahead of its time that its own personal power plants provided it with electricity day and night. But the lavish gift to Mrs. Dooley truly culminates in the 4,000-piece Tiffany stained-glass window in her likeness, with a domed ceiling above. James and Sallie used Swannanoa as their summer retreat from the heat at their Maymont estate in Richmond.
Now on the National Register of Historic Places, it has hosted such prominent individuals as President Calvin Coolidge and Walter Russell. President Coolidge enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner here in 1928 (as well as the distillery that produced the region’s best moonshine). Russell, the philosophical pioneer, established a museum and a foundation at Swannanoa in 1948. The site was nearly chosen in 1941 as the location for the U.S. military's Joint Interrogation Center, used to interrogate prisoners of war.
Beyond its historical significance and notice of prominent guests, Swannanoa’s true appeal is in its romance. Swannanoa’s namesake, inspired by Mrs. Dooley’s fondness for swans, pays homage to the admirable trait of swans to choose their mate for a lifetime. The Tiffany stained-glass window is a further testament to the depth of James and Sallie Dooley’s relationship within the marble home. After all, Virginia is for lovers.
Today, the couple’s legacy lives on through the Richmond Public Library, St. Joseph’s orphanage, Maymont estate and park, and Afton’s beautiful Swannanoa palace. Tours of the house are still available during select "open house" weekends throughout the year. Come see firsthand the house’s fifty-two rooms, and admire the Gilded Age interior furnishings and décor.
Call 540.885.5653 for more information.
497 Swannanoa Lane
Afton, VA 22920