James Henry Dooley served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, also known as the “War Between the States, and was injured during the Battle of Williamsburg. For the remainder of the war Major Dooley was in the reserve army until the Confederacy collapsed in 1865.
During the period of Reconstruction, James Dooley worked as a lawyer and was elected to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. James Dooley became a millionaire and started construction of the Maymont Mansion in 1886. It was not until 1893 that the mansion was completed.
In 1911, the Dooleys had an architect design a Italian Rennisance Revival villa that was to be built along the blue ridge mountains in Afton, Virginia.
In 1912, the Dooley summer vacation home, which is now known as the Swannanoa Palace, was built along with a servant’s home and a water tower on the top of a hill.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, who lived from 1848 to 1933, designed a multitude of Tiffany stained glass that has been featured around the world.
The largest Tiffany stained glass, to ever be installed inside of a residential home, was placed in between a dual staircase on rear side of the Swannanoa Palace.
In present day, the Swannanoa Palace and the buildings around it, unlike the Maymont Mansion, have been left in a dilapidated state and have deteriorated over time. The water tower, with Persian artwork at the top of the building, is boarded up. The servants home has multiple broken windows upstairs with its first level windows boarded up to prevent entry. The brick paths, underneath and surrounding the pergolas in the gardens, have many missing bricks and broken parts along the foundation. It is my hope that one day, the Swannanoa Palace and the buildings around it, can be restored to their former glory.
On Easter weekend, I met with Victoria Airisun Wonderli, an artist and historian who wrote the book, “Swannanoa Palace – A Pictorial History It’s Past and People”. Victoria had written the book to coincide with the 100 year anniversity of the palace that she adores for its “Hollywoodesque” aurora along its main hallway.