Middleburg Council Celebrates Salamander’s Stars

Salamander Resort and Spa founder Sheila Johnson returned a familiar battleground Thursday night, but this time those gathered in the Middleburg Town Council chambers offered rousing applause.

She was invited to the meeting to receive a resolution celebrating the property’s recent designation as a five-star spa, in addition to its continuing status as a five-star resort. There are only 63 properties worldwide with five-star ratings for both lodging and spa, and just 30 in the United States.

Since opening in 2013, the 168-room resort has transformed the town into a global tourism destination and made hospitality its top industry.

Johnson recalled the struggle to win Town Council and community support for her vision.

”It was a tough go as we all know. And I have to say, I knew that we were going to get to this spot,” Johnson said.

“I really had the vision from the very, very beginning when I thought about doing the resort up there and buying the land. I know that there were so many people who just did not want this to happen.”

Everyone said it was going to change the town, she recalled. 

“I said, no, we’re going to re-envision the town. It is going to become a very wealthy and economically sustainable town. Businesses will start coming back. And I know there are a lot of people who have been here for years and years and didn’t want it to change,” Johnson said. “Change can be a good thing if it is done correctly. I worked very closely with the citizens and the Town Council to make sure—I did not want to ruin the town at all. I really wanted to make this the most wonderful place in the world, not only to live but to visit for our tourists. I’m so glad that finally the vision has happened.”

She thanked those who supported her vision through the years.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the people here—the people who live here, the Town Council—for their support and it almost brings me to tears,” Johnson said. 

Mayor Bridge Littleton highlighted the decades of work Johnson and her team devoted to making the resort a success.

“The hard part is going back 25 years, taking a vision and then creating something and putting all the hard work in it that it requires to have that vision through the ups and downs, through a great, global recession and through a pandemic to bring it out on the other side,” Littleton said. “I think one of the most important aspects of that is not the building, it’s not the grounds, it’s not the marketing. It the people.”

“It is the people who make anything worthwhile special. Forbes is simply a recognition of that 20 years of hard work in creating an amazing and dynamic team to achieve the success that you all have achieved,” he said.

During the meeting, Johnson pointed to the seat where she was sitting on the night the Town Council approved the resort project after a long community debate. She said that experience will be in an upcoming book she is writing. “It all will be in the book, about how everything turned out great,” she said.

“I am here for you. I will continue to work hard to make sure we continue on the right trajectory,” Johnson said. 

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