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The Swannanoa Mansion was built in 1912 by millionaire and philanthropist James H. Dooley as a summer home for he and his wife, Sarah O. May. A lavish and expansive mansion, it reportedly took eight years to complete, though the couple only lived in it for a few years. The property would pass through several hands following their deaths, though it would lie empty during the Great Depression. Following World War II, it was leased to Walter Russel for fifty years. The house itself has deteriorated greatly, as well as gained a reputation for being haunted. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.


  • Swannanoa Mansion
  • Aerial view of the mansion
  • Stained glass window painting of Mrs. Dooley
The Swannanoa Mansion was built in 1912 by millionaire and philanthropist James H. Dooley, intending it to be a summer home for he and his wife. Dooley is well known as one of the primary backers of the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad, as well as being a representative in the Virginia House of Delegates and donating large amounts of money to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Despite the expense and effort put into its construction, the couple only lived in the estate for a few years as Mr. Dooley passed away in 1922, with Mrs. Dooley following in 1926.

The mansion would be willed to James Dooley's sisters, though they would quickly sell it to the Valley Corporation of Richmond, who converted the home into a country club by 1929. However, it would only stay open for three years before closing in 1932. During the Great Depression and World War II, it would lay empty. In 1948, it would be leased to Walter Russell for fifty years to house the University of Science and Philosophy.

The estate has been deteriorating for some time, though renovation efforts have not been made. The building has also gained a reputation for being haunted, drawing paranormal investigation groups such as the Twisted Paranormal Society. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. Virginia Department of Historic Resources. http://www.dhr.Virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Nelson/062-0022_Swannanoa_1969_Final_Nomination.pdf. 

Swannanoa Mansion. Twisted Paranormal Society. https://twistedparanormalsociety.com/SWANNANOA_MANSION.php.

Swannanoa Palace. Colonial Ghosts. https://colonialghosts.com/swannanoa-palace/.



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