In 1912 after eight years of construction Swannanoa Palace was complete. The millionaire and philanthropist James H. Dooley intended it to be a “summer place” for his and his wife Sarah “Sallie” O. May.
Major James Dooley, an executive with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company, owned the Maymont estate in Richmond and spared no expense building this 52-room marble palace. He dedicated the retreat as a token of love from husband to wife, the depth of which was represented in the 4,000 piece Tiffany stained-glass window and a domed ceiling bearing the likeness of Mrs. Dooley. It took over 300 artisans using Georgian marble, Tiffany windows, and gold plumbing fixtures, to create the palace as a replica of the Villa de Medici in Rome.
Major and Mrs. Dooley called the palace Swannanoa because Sallie loved swans for their grace and the fact that they mated for life. A river in North Carolina called Swannanoa — the Cherokee word for beautiful trail may have also been an influence in naming this home, a conclusion made from the presence of a carving over the entrance to the mansion containing a swan and a paddle.
Today Swannanoa Palace is owned by James F. Dulaney,Jr and is opened some weekends for tours but it is a far cry from the “palace” it once was.