Fallen palace: Swannanoa still stunning, despite disrepair

onarch-swananoa-oldThe mansion in its heyday.

The Hook recently had a chance to tour Swannanoa, the sumptuous but decaying 1912 Italianate palace on Afton Mountain, which current owner James F. “Phil” Dulaney opened for tours in mid-April. Dulaney told the Hook that he has “a lot of plans” for the building, but so far, after owning it since 1942 with a consortium of others–- including long-time friend Wendell Wood, who happens to be busy building his own palace on Carter Mountain–- no plans have materialized.

onarc-swananoa-roof-b0920The ornate towers offer stunning views of both the Shenandoah and Rockfish Valleys.
onarch-swananoa-front0920Richmond industrialist James H. Dooley completed Swannanoa in 1912. It reportedly took 300 artisans eight years to build, but Dooley only lived in it for a few years.
onarch-swananoa-glass-b0920The over-sized Tiffany window over the grand staircase–- which depicts Dooley’s wife, Sallie May, as a roman matron–- reportedly cost $3,500 in 1912,
0narch-swnanoa-trash0920Unfortunately, the famed garage/carriage house currently serves as a junk yard.

The house, located atop Afton Mountain, will be open June 5-6, July 3-4, August 7-8 and 14-15, September 4-5 and 11-12, October 2-3, 9-10, and 16-17 from noon to 5pm with an admission fee of $6 and kids free. Tickets sold on site. 540-942-5201.

Read more on: afton mountainswannanoa


I have amazing, magical memories of this place as a child. I was so happy to read that it is open for tours, despite being in disrepair. I hope they will work to restore and keep it open in the future, so that my children will be old enough to enjoy the magic of this place.

I cannot confirm or deny but at one time I may have been through every crevice of this Palace and it's fascinating . If you take the tour ask if they will show you the secret passages near the big fireplace on the first floor :) or take a look behind the book cases in the library . You could escape through several well planned routes :) .

If you have never been in Swannanoah don't miss the opportunity .

Ah the fun of being young one time with no fears or cares of being caught .


Plans? Is that the same Dulaney that owns the Afton Inn?

I believe the mansion is reportedly haunted. Can anyone confirm?

Same Dulaney. The man loves his decrepit structures.


I did a google search on the Inn at Afton. I found several travel sites with many anecdotes as to the state of disrepair of the rooms and building. I stayed there with my family the weekend of my graduation almost 20 years ago. It apparently has gone downhill. I do not have recent personal experience there, however.

Owned since 1942? is that a typo?

Mr. Dulaney is in possession of a true gem there, but is squandering it. I wanted to have my wedding there and have everyone stay at the Afton Inn... until I found out that a bathroom trailer would have to be towed up to Swannonoa for the event, the gardens were a mess, and the price was outrageous. And when I walked into the lobby at Afton Inn it smelled like vomit. seriously. What a beautiful duo of properties just rotting.


I have passed that area of Afton for years and wished I was on a bulldozer . I would wipe out half the structures in that area as it is one of the most beautiful properties in this state less the buildings .

Magical Memories

I like your thought process . Everyone with children or grandchildren need to take some time and teach them the history of Swannanoa starting with a visit to Maymont park in Richmond where the history starts with the Dooley family and the inspiration Swannanoa was built . I too clearly remember my first visit to Swannanoa when the Russels owned it and Miss Russel would greet people from the top of the majestic staircase all dressed up in a fancy dress . Some of the history includes children roller skating through Swannanoa when it was vacant and one old timer told me he can remember cattle running through the place for years .

Definitely a piece of VA nobody should miss out on . I am amazed at the number of locals that do not even know Swannanoa exist along with Scotts mansion/castle a stones throw away .


I hope there really are plans for the Swannanoa. I went through it years ago and though the smell was very moldy I enjoyed the visit.
If Mr. Delaney is the same person who owns the nearby structures that are in such disrepair, I don't hold out a lot of hope. Nearby buildings are actually falling down - not sure about the condition of The Afton Inn. Would somebody comment on this?

Who owns the huge water tank that is so visible from far. It sure could use a paint job. That is such a beautiful area and the ugly buildings and the rusty water tank sure take away from the beauty of the area.

Yes, it's haunted. Really.

This once beautiful mansion and the other land owned by Dulaney has been in terrible state ever since his father died. He lost the franchise of being a Holiday Inn and as one can see Dulaney can't even keep up the sign of his so call Inn at Afton. The resturant at the motel was once one of the best places to eat in the area with a beautiful panoramic view of Rockfish Valley (Aberdeen Barn Resturant) The whole mountain top is a diaster and to visitors who come across Rockfish Gap and exit from the Skyline Dr and the Parkway -this is a blight on what could be one of the truly most beautiful spots in the state. The tourist center that was located in one of Dulaney's decaying buildings was for two years without bathroom facilities. The roof leaked and was finally forced to move and relocate to the above hill above. Every visitor seeking information commented on the deplorable condition of the mountainside. What kind of signal does this send to our valued tourists? Anyone in their right mind would never keep their property in such a horrible state. Sell it to someone who could turn this eye-sore into something that our community can be proud of.