The Swannanoa Palace, Virginia, United States
The Swannanoa Palace was built in 1912 by millionaire and philanthropist James H. Dooley (1841–1922) above Rockfish Gap, which is located at the border of northern Nelson County and Augusta County, Virginia, in the United States. It is partly inspired by Rome’s Villa Medici buildings.
Colchicine at English Wikipedia., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Rockfish Gap is the Skyline Drive’s southern end through Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway’s northern end.
It has a view of both the Shenandoah and Rockfish valleys and is on the Blue Ridge Mountains’ crest. It is in both Augusta and Nelson counties because it is on a jurisdictional border.
Front Door – By Fopseh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28294177
The structure, which featured Tiffany windows, terraced gardens, and marble from Tate, Georgia and inside Italian Marbleb Georgian marble, was reportedly constructed by over 300 artisans over several years.
Fopseh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – North Side View.
It was intended to be a “summer place” for Richmond, Virginia millionaire and philanthropist James H. Dooley and his wife Sarah “Sallie” O. May. The 4,000-piece Tiffany stained-glass window and a domed ceiling depicting Mrs. Dooley show the depth of James and Sallie May’s relationship. It was constructed as a token of love between husband and wife. Even though it cost a lot, it was only used for a few years after it was finished in 1912.
Fopseh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In 1922, Major Dooley passed away at the age of 82. In addition to several million dollars, he gave his wife Sallie Mae Swannanoa in its entirety. In 1925, Sallie May Dooley passed away at the age of 79. The estate was given to his four sisters by Major Dooley. When Sallie May passed away, many of her Swannanoa furniture was moved to Maymont. Her Swan furniture and bed are on display at Maymont in Richmond, Virginia.
The property was constructed with cutting-edge amenities at the time. The house had central heat, plumbing, and electricity installed. It had its own power plant on the property, making it the first house in Nelson County to have electricity. Additionally, a built-in elevator existed. Like Thomas Jefferson’s 27-mile-away home Monticello, it had a dumbwaiter to transport food from the basement kitchen to the first-floor butler’s pantry on a radiator with flat shelving.
In 1926, the sisters sold Swannanoa to the Valley Corporation of Richmond, which became Swannanoa’s second owner. In 1927, they designed and built the Swannanoa Country Club and Golf Course. The country club didn’t make any money during the 1929 Depression, so the Dooley sisters took back the property in 1932. During the Country Club era, a small stone building was constructed on the property for guests to pay their golf fees. It was also said to house the best moonshine distillery in the area and was a preferred supplier for government officials during Prohibition.
own view of the stairs. – Fopseh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
There were 18 holes on the golf course. Calvin Coolidge dined at the mansion for Thanksgiving in 1928 while Swannanoa was operating as a country club. According to the wait staff, Mrs. Coolidge had “the giddiness of a mare in the spring” due to the opulent accommodations and isolation from the bustle of the Capitol. Calvin was ordinarily quiet regarding the matter, yet appeared to be fairly drawn and tired for the following day’s hunting.
In 1942, the United States Navy thought about buying the property and renovating it, which they estimated would cost $200,000, to build a secret facility for interrogating prisoners of war. Because it appeared unlikely that Congress would approve the purchase of such a grand structure for the purpose, the military rejected it in favor of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Fort Hunt, Virginia.
View through the front vaulted marble arcades. – Fopseh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
During the Great Depression and World War II, the mansion remained vacant until A.T. Dulaney and a group of Charlottesville businessmen purchased it and established Skyline Swannanoa, Inc. in 1944. Swannanoa was rented in 1948 to Walter Russell for his College of Science and Theory.