Straddling the county line, Swannanoa brought the Gilded Age to Nelson and Augusta counties. Wealthy railroad magnate James H. Dooley and his wife, Sallie May, had already exhibited architectural daring by building their exuberant mansion Maymont, in Richmond. Here, throwing aside the usual Virginia reticence, the Dooleys commissioned a vacation house modeled on the Renaissance Villa Medici in Rome. It was probably inspired by Virginia's other version of the Villa Medici, the Jefferson Hotel (1895) in Richmond by New York City architects Carrère and Hastings. Faced in gleaming white Georgia marble, the three-story Swannanoa with a central arcade and flanked by four-story square towers is set on a terrace bounded by low balusters. The extravagant carved and coffered interiors feature a marble entrance hall with a double staircase rising to a landing with a large Tiffany stained glass window, which is said to depict Sallie May Dooley in her garden. The Dooleys' Florentine dining room, Louis XV–styled drawing room, and Oriental den illustrate the era's love of variety, foreign lands, and collections. The terraced Italian garden has a pergola as well as a water tower disguised as a picturesque campanile. The large stable accommodated housing for the coachman and the chauffeur, a carriage bay, a wagon area, and garage, along with stabling for carriage and riding horses, workhorses, and cows. The estate is now an events venue.
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