Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Afton House: A New Place of Summer Resort

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Early 1900s view of Afton, Virginia, revealing an elevated passenger depot platform that aligned with Claude Crozet’s original Blue Ridge Tunnel. The roof of Afton House is visible at the upper right. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

“On last Saturday, a public dinner was given at Afton, in Nelson County, in honor of the completion of the new depot building, erected there in place of the one burned by the Yankee raiders in the Spring of 1865,” reported the Staunton Spectator newspaper in June 1868.

With the re-opening of Afton’s train depot, hope for brighter, more prosperous days reigned supreme. That was surely the thinking of 41-year-old James Robert Goodloe and his young bride Maggie Crist in December of ’69. In addition to raising a family, the congenial couple envisioned houseguests—lots of them—arriving by train, strolling across their lawn, relaxing on breezy porches, and gathered around dinner tables brimming with delectables. The placing of solid foundations beneath those lofty dreams was underway when the new year of 1870 arrived.

S.H. Goodloe & Company were owner-operators of the venerable Mountain Top Hotel at Rockfish Gap, just over the county line in Augusta County. Around this same time, those business partners began an unprecedented building project in Nelson County, nearby the sparkling new depot—a four-story project named Afton House that fully embraced the dreams of James and Maggie Goodloe.

Afton House was promoted by personal sentiments mailed around the region on penny postcards. This rare example, postmarked 1907, shows summer guests relaxing on that hotel’s lawn and porches. Phil James Historical Images Collection.

The Richmond Dispatch, in May 1871, noted, “In the Piedmont Region, summer resorts are springing up. We mention the Afton House near the mouth of the Rockfish Gap tunnel through the Blue Ridge. A spacious hotel has been erected there just where there is a full view of the beautiful valley of the Rockfish River, (one of the loveliest views in the world,) and where the atmosphere is unsurpassed for its bracing and healthy influences. This will become a popular summer resort [that] can be reached from Richmond by dinner-time.

“Parties leaving the Virginia Springs and not wishing to return to the cities so soon will find this a very convenient and pleasant place, with fine freestone and chalybeate water.”

Similarly, the Baltimore Sun reported, “This new place of Summer Resort will be opened for the reception of visitors on the 15th of June. A more pleasant and beautiful place cannot be found in the mountains of Virginia, or one more convenient to the cities. Terms: Per month, $40; per week, $12; per day, $2. Children under 12 years and servants half price. S.H. Goodloe & Co., Proprietors. Afton, Nelson County, Va.”

Word of its opening spread near and far. The Staunton Spectator announced, “Excursion to Afton Depot. — The Catholic Sunday School of Staunton will hold their Annual Pic Nic at Afton Depot, Nelson County, on the line of the Chesa. & O.R.R., on Tuesday, July 23rd, 1872, the Messrs. Goodloe having kindly offered the use of the Grove attached to the New Hotel, at the above named beautiful Summer resort.

“The train will leave Staunton at 7 o’clock a.m. Returning, leave Afton at 7 o’clock p.m., giving eleven hours for recreation, visiting, and viewing the beautiful scenery in the neighborhood including Mountain Top. Dinner will be furnished to those who may desire it, by Mr. Goodloe, at 50 cents each.”

This early-style skeleton key with leather fob is a tangible reminder of Nelson County’s Afton House hotel. Courtesy the Edward Stratton Family.

Upgrades to the property, of course, were ongoing. In spring 1874, the Richmond Dispatch reported, “Afton House. — This new and popular summer resort has been much improved by the addition of several buildings, good bowling alley, bathhouses, &c. Those seeking recreation or health cannot be better suited. The location is beautiful and healthy, the views are grand, and the mountain breeze is almost continuous…”

In May 1877: “… The new Ball-room to the Afton House is progressing towards completion; will be ready for this season…”

The Dispatch, in August 1879: “The Afton House and Mountain-Top are filled with visitors—many of them prominent citizens of Richmond. They show no disposition to leave the mountains for the oppressive heat of the cities, and will probably remain until late in the season.”

How does one stop a train? Remember the mention of those dinner tables groaning with delectables? The Spectator reported, “Afton, Va., August 18th, 1881. The long looked for Telegraph office at this place is now in full operation, in charge of Mr. G.R. Loyall, who is Depot Agent of the C.&O. Railway, assisted by J.E. Hall, Esq. The mail trains dine at the Afton House.”

An original page portion from the 1903 Afton House guest register. Courtesy the Edward Stratton Family.

Staunton’s Valley Virginian well-described Afton’s summer scene: “Goodloe’s Afton House is filling up rapidly with visitors, and before a great while, should the weather continue hot, city people will be glad to take roosting room in open air only for the privilege of enjoying the delights that Afton affords. Nowhere in the mountains of Virginia is there a more delightful resort. No other hotel offers its guests a better table or more comfortable quarters at as reasonable figures, and no other place can boast of a better class of visitors than those who annually flock to Afton House.

A postcard view titled “Afton Pond” pictured the gazebo and pond by the front lawn of Afton House. This early 20th century hand-tinted card was manufactured pre-WWI in Germany. Phil James Historical Images Collection.

“And mine host—in James Goodloe are to be found all the good qualities of a first-class hotel man, while at the same time he is free from any of the objectionable features. It is worth the price of a month’s board anywhere else to hear that gentleman’s hearty peal of laughter ringing out upon the pure mountain air. Afton is never without a crowd after the season opens…. The successors of Mr. Goodloe will have to be well up in the art of pleasing to improve upon the admirable management of this establishment, due in marked degree to the accomplished wife of the proprietor.”

James Robert Goodloe (1828–1911) and his bride Margaret Ellen “Maggie” Crist Goodloe (1845–1922) graciously shared their lawn, porches and dinner table with the public for 46 of this establishment’s 93 years of existence. In addition, scores of much beloved wait-staff and managers provided Afton House with a sterling legacy of hospitality that still cannot be matched.

 

Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2021 Phil James 

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