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The other shoe finally dropped on Afton Mountain…

August 18, 2017, 1:25 AM

On Wednesday, I was on a day trip down to Stuarts Draft and such with a few people.  On the whole, it was a fun time.  On the way out, we swung by Afton Mountain in order to give a quick, five-minute tour of the abandoned motels up there.  One pass across the lower properties, then up and across the front of The Inn at Afton.  The Inn at Afton was a lot darker than I might have expected, and I spotted a sign on the window of room 213, which, as we discovered in April, was being used as the lobby.  This is the sign:

"HOTEL CLOSED. LOBBY CLOSED. WILL REOPEN AT A LATER TIME!"

The room was empty except for those signs visible in the bottom of the photo about the nearby Swannanoa mansion.  So it seems like it’s official: The Inn at Afton has finally gone out of business.  Good.  I wonder what caused them to finally pull the plug on the place.  After all, many of the rooms were already uninhabitable.  The swimming pool was mostly empty with nasty green water in the bottom.  The lobby and restaurant building had already been closed, as signage last April was directing people to room 213 for any lobby functions.  In any case, I don’t think that maintenance was ever a priority here.  When we moved to the area in 1992, back when this facility was still a Holiday Inn, my father described the place as “grungy”, and thus we stayed at Days Inn rather than Holiday Inn when we arrived in the area.  We stayed at Holiday Inns for all of the other nights of that three-day road trip.  And just as well.  When I had the occasion of going into the lobby a few times in the early 2000s, the building always smelled like a combination of cigarette smoke and filth.

In any case, I imagine that this is the end of the road for The Inn at Afton as an operating property.  Considering that the other businesses in this area gradually closed in the 1990s and 2000s, and that The Inn at Afton itself was then slowly being abandoned while still operating, this is the logical conclusion.  In other words, I don’t believe a word of that “Will reopen at at later time!” line.  They’re done.  Back in 1998, according to C-Ville Weekly, the Howard Johnson’s, down the hill from The Inn at Afton, never reopened due to a lack of workers when it was time to reopen for the season.  In the same article about the closing, it indicates that owner Phil Dulaney planned to reopen:

Dulaney doesn’t plan to let Hojo’s – which has been on Afton since the 1940s – go gently into that good night. Dulaney, who has a soft spot himself for Hojo’s clam chowder and chocolate milkshakes, predicts that the restaurant will be up and running in the next few weeks. So while you can stop shivering, Chilly, you still might have to wait a bit longer for those nostalgia-inducing buttered franks.

Almost twenty years later, we’re still waiting for Phil Dulaney to find enough workers to reopen the Howard Johnson’s restaurant.  Not going to happen.

So now, there are only two things remaining in this part of Afton Mountain: the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center, and King’s Gourmet Popcorn.  Both are operated out of mobile structures by third parties.  The Tourist Information Center used to live beneath a row of abandoned motel rooms until moving to the current (mobile) structure located next to The Inn at Afton.  King’s Gourmet Popcorn is a food truck located in front of the former convenience store.  They are apparently doing well up there, and understandably so – their popcorn was absolutely fabulous when Elyse, Melissa, and I visited on our April trip, and the place had a lot of other customers when we went by.

I also suppose that King’s Gourmet Popcorn is an indication that yes, Afton Mountain is still a viable location for commercial development.  After all, it worked from the 1940s to the 1990s.  No reason that it couldn’t become something functional again.  I suppose the key is that the owners have to care enough to make it successful.  And unfortunately, Phil Dulaney, owner of the mountain site, is all talk and no action.  I suspect that Dulaney has to die and the property go to new ownership before something positive happens on the mountain site, though, and that’s kind of sad.  This site has so much potential, and the views are amazing, with Waynesboro on one side, and the Piedmont on the other.  There’s no reason that a new operator couldn’t build a new development up here with a modern hotel, a new tourist information center, and shops and restaurants.  You just have to care enough about your business to make it happen.

In the meantime, though, I wonder how long the now-abandoned motel will continue to languish, and how long it takes for it to look as bad as the properties below it.  Right now, the utilities are still connected, as the sign still lights up at night, lights were visible in the upper level corridors, and the parking lot lighting still comes on.  So who knows.

Categories: Afton Mountain