Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Resort Opens in Middleburg

After years of work, design, discussion and delays, Salamander Resorts and Spa in Middleburg, Va., formally opened the morning of Aug. 29 with snips of golden scissors at the entrance to “Sheila Johnson’s house.”

An hour’s drive from D.C., the 168-room luxury resort sits on 340 acres and is filled with Johnson’s idea of the Middleburg experience and mystique with finely detailed rooms, spas and pools, a library and club bar, cooking studio, wine bar, a stable-inspired restaurant, a stable and paddock, conference rooms, ballroom and terraces. It is the “only new luxury destination resort in the United States to open in 2013,” according to Salamander Resort & Spa.

Prem Devadas, president of Salamander Resorts, greeted the opening-day guests at the front entrance: “Welcome to the house that Sheila Johnson built.” He thanked officials from Middleburg and Loudoun County and introduced the speakers.

Middleburg Mayor Betsy Davis recalled that — after contentious debates on the project and its approval — Salamander founder Johnson told Middleburg officials seven years ago, “I won’t let you down.” Davis said that she admired Johnson’s way of “paying it forward” and added, “Sheila, we will let you down.”

Scott York, chairman-at-large of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, crumbled up his speech and said everyone was waiting to see Salamander’s interior as quickly as he praised the resort’s economic benefits. (Salamander has 2,000 employees.)
Rita McClenny, head of Virginia Tourism, tagged Salamander “a crown jewel” for the state and recalled that Jackie Kennedy put Middleburg on the map in a big way 50 years ago.

David Gergen of CNN also touched at the history of Middleburg with its connection to the Kennedys and the Harrimans. Gergen mentioned that the resort’s opening was during the week of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Gergen said he found it “fitting that … we come to celebrate Sheila’s dream” and noted that Johnson is a co-producer of the film, “The Butler.”

As she thanked the many involved in the project, Johnson — businesswoman, philanthropist and second richest black women in the U.S. — spoke of feeling “so many emotions.” “Look at what we have accomplished.” When she moved to Middleburg years ago, “Middleburg was my refuge,” she said. “I found friendships. I felt at home.” With the vision of her resort fulfilled, she said, “There is love in every single detail.”

And so, with the ribbon-cutting, Salamander was open — and guests eagerly entered “Sheila’s house” to have some champagne and a very fine lunch under the supervision of chef Todd Gray. They could see and taste the love in every detail.

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