Swannanoa Palace | Decaying, Haunted, & AWESOME

Swannanoa Palace | Grand Entrance | Afton, VA

Welcome to Swannanoa Palace

This Virginia mountaintop estate is breathtaking…or depending on your point of view, used to be. Swannanoa Palace, once the summer home of James & Sallie Mae Dooley, has fallen into disrepair, but is still open to visitors who want to wander its creaking, and rumored haunted, halls.

Swannanoa Palace | Grand Entrance | Afton, VA

This amazing mansion was built in 1912 and was inspired by Villa Medici in Rome. The exterior is white Georgia marble and the interior is adorned with Italian Carrara & Siena marble. Amongst the peeling paint and decay you can see how grand Swannanoa Palace once was.

Swannanoa Palace |Tiffany Window & Grand Staircase | Afton, VA-Edit

Swannanoa Palace |Tiffany Window & Grand Staircase | Afton, VA-Edit

The ground floor is, by far, the most opulent in its adornments. Each room is unique and in the center there is a grand staircase that leads to the second floor, topped with a stunning Tiffany window depicting Sallie Mae.

Swannanoa Palace | Ground Floor | Afton, VA

Swannanoa Palace | Ground Floor | Afton, VA

Swannanoa Palace |Tiffany Window & Grand Staircase | Afton, VA-Edit

As you go further up in the Palace, the decor becomes less and less adorned. Most of the upstairs areas were closed off to the public, but one of the towers was accessible. At the top of the tower you could see for miles though I didn’t say up there long. It had been somewhat reinforced, but there was definitely an unsettling feeling up there. Ghosts? Maybe…more likely just old, and seeming unsteady floors.

Swannanoa Palace |Third Floor Disrepair | Afton, VA

Swannanoa Palace |Third Floor Disrepair | Afton, VA

The gardens, now quite overgrown, were once manicured terraces with fountains.

Swannanoa Palace | Garden Fountain | Afton, VA

Visiting Swannanoa Palace

If you are looking for cool things to see in Virginia, Swannanoa Palace should be on your list. It wasn’t crowded and entrance is only $6/person. (price subject to change, please verify before you go). I believe they accepted only cash so make sure to hit an ATM before you head up the hill.

Looking for other things to do in Virginia? Check out this list great list!

For the photographers: the best part about Swannanoa Palace for me was that they allowed me to come in with my tripod!! Again, this may be a case by case basis depending on how crowded they are so please verify before you go.

To Eat: About 10 minutes away you’ll find the Blue Mountain Brewery. The beer & food were both fantastic. They get quite busy on a Saturday so I suggest arriving around 11:00-11:30am to beat the lunch rush.

Capture & Processing Notes

All of the photos in this series were shot with my tripod mounted Canon 6D and 16-35 f/4 lens. Processing was done in Lightroom, Photoshop, Aurora HDR (get 10% off Aurora HDR using coupon code “ANGANDRIEUX” at checkout), and On1 Photo 10. Most of these photos were made with multiple exposures, tone mapped with Aurora HDR with a bit of additional masking/composite work done in Photoshop. I used On1 Photo 10 for artistic touches and to selectively balance color and contrast.


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  1. judy on June 7, 2016 at 9:25 am

    I thought this was purchased from the Leo Russell estate by the Univ. of Virginia?

    • Angela Andrieux on June 7, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      Hi Judy,

      According to their brochure, Swannanoa Palace is currently owned by Skyline Swannanoa, Inc.

      The University of Science and Philosophy, a foundation started by Walter & Lao Russell left the property in 1998 and gave up their lease.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my post! I hope you enjoyed the article and photos.


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  5. Denise pascal on December 13, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    I have been to Swannoa many times over the decades but for sure, it is decidedly eerie. Then in the 90’s Lao Russell’s group took it over but couldn’t afford to maintain it. Great trivia; the stained glass window of Mrs. Dooley is by Tiffany. The drawing room features silk wall covering as well as a mural of Bertrand Russell standing on a bridge with Jesus and FDR. Most recently, I heard that a corporation purchased it and planned to restore it and turn into a resort. I hope someone saves this amazing architecture. Great pics, thanks for sharing!

    • Angela Andrieux on December 14, 2018 at 8:21 am

      Hi Denise – So glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for sharing a bit more background about Swannanoa. I know the corporation that currently owns it rents it out for events such as weddings, so hopefully this magnificent place will be preserved.

  6. Steve Williams on June 5, 2019 at 2:33 am

    Can this house be purchased and restored?

    • Angela Andrieux on June 5, 2019 at 10:58 am

      Hi Steve – Swannanoa is currently owned by Skyline Swannanoa Inc. and is maintained for historical tours and events. While I don’t think they are restoring the property, they are keeping it from decaying further. I’m not sure if it is for sale, but you could contact them at https://skyline-swannanoa-inc.square.site/home to inquire. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. William L. Hawkins on June 22, 2022 at 2:35 pm


    Wow. I was there when Lao Russell and dog would access make afternoon appearances on the front lawn. A rare event. She signed one of her books for me, “Why You Cannot Die” and at that time there was great chatter in the local village as to what “really” went on in the Palace. The brochure (at that time) was a priceless piece of facts vs fiction and bordered on … no, I’d rather not say in print.

    I am planning to try and return next month with friends and hope it is still open …

    GREAT pictures.

    • Angela Andrieux on June 24, 2022 at 8:36 am

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I hope you’re able to visit again, soon!

  8. Al Riutort on August 4, 2022 at 8:34 am

    I would like to visit

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