Swannanoa Palace – Afton, Virginia

  • By: Gareth Popovic
  • Date: 19 January 2024
  • Time to read: 6 min.


Welcome to Swannanoa Palace, a mysterious and frightening wonder in the heart of Afton, Virginia. As you approach this stately mansion, you may feel a shiver go down your spine, since within these walls is a past steeped in mystery and whispers of the unknown.


Swannanoa Palace holds a captivating history that dates back to the early 20th century. Constructed in 1912 by James Dooley, a prominent figure in the Gilded Age, the palace was intended as a grand gift to his beloved wife, Sarah May. Nestled atop Afton Mountain in Virginia, this opulent neoclassical mansion was inspired by the renowned Villa de Medici in Rome, Italy.

Tragedy struck in 1925 when Sarah May passed away, leaving James Dooley heartbroken. The palace remained closed for several years, and eventually, James Dooley’s health began to decline. Following his death in 1928, the estate changed hands, becoming the property of the Valley Corporation and later a private country club.

Following the closure of the country club, Swannanoa Palace remained unoccupied for seventeen years. Then, in 1949, it found a new purpose when it was leased to the famous American painter and sculptor, Walter Bowman Russell. Russell, an influential Enlightenment thinker, established The University of Science and Philosophy within the palace walls. Here, students were exposed to Russell’s revolutionary ideas, promoting self-discovery and cosmic illumination.

Swannanoa Palace
Swannanoa Palace – Credit Kipp Teague

Haunting Legends and Supernatural Phenomena

Paranormal Activity Team’s Haunting Encounter

The courageous Twisted Paranormal Society walked into the mist-shrouded lands of Afton, Virginia on that fateful night, June 8, 2013. Their chilly location? Swannanoa Palace is said to be haunted by restless spirits from the past.

The detectives entered the castle armed with ghost-hunting equipment and unflinching courage. For years, whispers of spectral encounters have swirled, fueling their drive to unearth the unsettling tales. An strange vibe pervaded the air as the investigation progressed. Ethereal orbs danced across rooms, and eerie voices resonated through the corridors. As the spirits made their presence known, shivers ran down the spines.

But it wasn’t just evidence they captured—unease and discomfort gripped several team members. The Swannanoa Palace seemed to hold them in its spectral grasp, leaving an indelible mark on their souls.

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Ghost of Sallie Dolley

Sallie Dooley, the wife of James Dolley, stands out among the ethereal beings that roam its hallways. Who were in a deep and loving relationship, as seen by their shared Swannanoa Palace summers and lavish lifestyle. Her unexpected death in 1925 left her with unfinished business or a wish to stay in touch with the estate that contained so many fond memories.

Sallie Dooley‘s spirit is said to wander the mansion’s long corridors, a ghostly figure woven into the tapestry of Swannanoa‘s legend. Even Dulaney, the estate’s guardian, attests to her continued presence. He shares a peculiar observation – his cats, usually bold and inquisitive, refuse to tread the third floor. It’s as if they sense Sallie‘s lingering aversion to their presence, a subtle reminder of her existence beyond the veil of the living.

Despite her departure from this world, Sallie Dooley’s spirit is said to linger at Swannanoa Palace. Her presence has been reported by numerous witnesses, with many claiming to have seen her ghostly figure wandering the mansion’s corridors.

Ghost of Dooley’s Servant – Anthony

A terrifying investigation took place at Swannanoa Palace in 2021, headed by a paranormal organization from Maryland. The detectives claimed to have made contact with one of the Dooley’s servants, the ethereal figure known as Anthony, as the moon shed an eerie glow across the estate. Anthony was the most active and communicative of the deceased who still resided at Swannanoa Palace.

According to Anthony’s ghostly narrative, he died tragically after falling from the palace’s central tower. Despite his premature death, he spoke fondly of his time with the Dooleys, enjoying his role in their rich environment. Anthony, an intriguing presence, seemed to enjoy the frequent investigations and excursions that now decorate the castle. To the surprise of tour groups, he communicated with dowsing rods, quickly answering to yes or no inquiries. His spectral energy could readily influence flashlights, turning them on and off or relocating them in answer to enquiries from the living.

Swannanoa Palace Interior
Swannanoa Palace Interior – Credit swannanoa_on_aftonmountain

Popular Culture and Media Coverage

Steeped in legendary tales and shrouded in eerie allure, Swannanoa Palace has earned its place in the spotlight, captivating audiences in various television shows and documentaries exploring the realm of the supernatural. Notably, the palace took center stage in the mesmerizing series “Enigmatic Enclaves: Unraveling Haunted Histories,” where intrepid investigators delved into the ghostly tales and chilling encounters that surround this enigmatic estate.

The allure of Swannanoa Palace extends to the world of literature as well, leaving an indelible mark in books like “Haunted Virginia City” by Janice Oberding and “Big Book of Virginia Ghost Stories” by  L. B Taylor. These literary treasures unravel the spectral stories surrounding the palace, weaving captivating narratives of its mysterious past.

Today, Swannanoa Palace stands as a magnet for history aficionados and seekers of the paranormal, drawn by its enigmatic presence in popular culture and media. This historic gem exudes an aura of intrigue and the supernatural, beckoning all who seek an immersive experience in its spellbinding and haunting ambiance.


As the sun sets over Swannanoa Palace, the shadows grow longer, and the air becomes charged with an eerie energy. It’s time to bid farewell to this mysterious abode, leaving behind the enigma it holds. But remember, the secrets of Swannanoa Palace are etched into its very foundations, and perhaps, one day, the veil of darkness may lift, revealing the full extent of its haunting history. Until then, let its mystique linger in your thoughts, forever enchanting and unsettling your soul.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Where is Swannanoa Palace located?
A: Swannanoa Palace is located in Afton, Virginia, USA.

Q: Is Swannanoa Palace truly haunted?
A: Yes, Swannanoa Palace is believed to be haunted by various spirits, including the ghostly presence of Sallie Dooley and other former servants like Anthony.

Q: Can visitors experience paranormal encounters during tours?
A: Some visitors claim to have had eerie experiences and interactions with spectral entities, particularly during the investigation tours.

Q: How active is Anthony, the ghostly servant, during investigations?
A: Anthony is considered one of the most active and communicative spirits at Swannanoa Palace, often responding to yes or no questions and manipulating flashlights during investigations.

Q: Are there specific areas in the palace with higher paranormal activity?
A: Yes, the library is believed to be one of the most active rooms in the palace, where ghostly encounters are frequently reported.

Q: Can visitors attempt to communicate with the spirits during tours?
A: Yes, during paranormal investigations and tours, visitors may use tools like dowsing rods to attempt communication with the entities.

Q: Are there any documented evidence of paranormal occurrences at Swannanoa Palace?
A: Yes, the Twisted Paranormal Society’s investigation in 2021 captured eerie audio evidence and interactions with the spirits, supporting the claims of haunting.

Q: Is the legend of Sallie Dooley related to the reported hauntings?
A: Yes, Sallie Dooley’s spirit is said to be one of the entities that still roam the palace, adding to the eerie tales and legends surrounding Swannanoa.

Q: Can visitors capture their own paranormal evidence during tours?
A: Visitors are welcome to bring their own ghost-hunting equipment and cameras to capture their experiences, though respecting the palace’s historical significance is essential.

Q: Is Swannanoa Palace open for private ghost-hunting events?
A: Yes, private paranormal investigations can be arranged for groups or organizations interested in experiencing the haunted legends of Swannanoa Palace.

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