Chris Suarez, Richmond Times Dispatch, February 5, 2021
Inspired by the removal of Confederate statuary on Monument Avenue last summer, Union Presbyterian Seminary last month demolished the historic country home of a Confederate surgeon who served under Stonewall Jackson.
The ruins of the McGuire Cottage, located in the middle of the 34-acre Westwood Tract off Brook Road, are nestled between an urban farm and a new apartment complex the seminary’s neighbors filed suit to keep from rising. Local and state preservation groups predicted the building’s demise years ago.
There were discussions about potential solutions to save the historic Italianate-style residence. Relocation was considered, but interested parties deemed that option too expensive. Preservationists wanted the seminary to readapt it as housing or for another use.
The weight of a new racial justice movement and the property’s association with Confederate slavery apologists who profited from the subjugation of Black people, ultimately, was too mighty, the seminary’s leaders determined.
“As recognition of and in repentance for the resourcing provided to the seminary through the labor of enslaved persons,” the seminary’s board of trustees voted last year to demolish the home formerly owned by Hunter H. McGuire, said Union Presbyterian Seminary spokesman Mike Frontiero.
McGuire was a Confederate doctor, teacher and former president of the American Medical Association who held deeply racist views. He opposed voting rights for African Americans and any mention of slavery as a cause of the Civil War in school textbooks. The Veterans Affairs medical center in South Richmond is named after him.
Virginia Commonwealth University removed his name and the names of other Confederate leaders from buildings on its campuses late last year. Three of McGuire’s great-great-grandchildren last summer endorsed the removal of his name from medical facilities, but implored people to remember that McGuire’s legacy included advocating for the humanitarian treatment of medical personnel in warfare.
In a recent update on its website, Historic Richmond lamented the loss of the building, and said the seminary’s stated reasons for demolishing the building “ring hollow.”
Elizabeth Kostelny, CEO of Preservation Virginia, said she does not want to judge the seminary’s stated reason for demolishing the building, but had also advocated for its preservation.
Charles Pool, a resident of Oregon Hill who contacted the Richmond Times-Dispatch last year advocating for a change to the name of the McGuire VA Medical Center, disagreed with the seminary’s decision.
“I am horrified that the Seminary destroyed the antebellum house,” he said. “Like Monticello and Mt. Vernon,” the respective estates of U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, “the house may have been constructed with slave labor, but it should have been preserved as a testament to their craftsmanship.”
Ana Edwards, a public historian and advocate for the creation of an expanded slave heritage memorial in Shockoe Bottom, disagreed.
“Even a rare old architectural specimen whose core structure may date to the [late] 1700s is not sacrosanct in the face of reckoning that the memories of eugenicists and white supremacists like Dr. Hunter McGuire must now face,” she said. “He hated Black people and believed their highest and best usefulness was in submission and servitude to the white race. He and his peers worked very hard to ensure Black people’s lives were as constrained as possible.
“I am not sorry Hunter McGuire’s old house is gone.”