Seminary’s 1800s-era ‘Westwood’ house demolished in Northside

Crews continued working on the demolition Wednesday beside the Canopy at Ginter Park apartments, visible in the background. (Jonathan Spiers photo)

One of the oldest homes in Northside is no more.

The 1800s-era Westwood house, also known as McGuire Cottage, was demolished this week at the behest of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

It owns the so-called Westwood Tract where the structure had stood for two centuries — dwarfed in recent years by the newly built Canopy at Ginter Park apartments.

Seminary spokesman Mike Frontiero said its board of trustees voted last year to demolish the structure, originally the home of Confederate surgeon Hunter Holmes McGuire, “as recognition of and in repentance for the resourcing provided to the seminary through the labor of enslaved persons.”

McGuire, one of the founders of the Medical College of Virginia and namesake of the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, was a personal physician to Richmond businessman Lewis Ginter and Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. He also authored racist writings describing Black people and others as inferior to whites.

The decision to demolish the structure coincided with a racial reckoning across the country following the death of George Floyd and demonstrations protesting police brutality. Locally, Confederate statues — including Jackson’s — were removed from Monument Avenue and other sites, while VCU, whose health system absorbed the former MCV, de-commemorated McGuire Hall and removed other mentions of him from its campus.

The Westwood house as it previously appeared. (Photos courtesy of Historic Richmond)

Despite its Confederate past, Westwood was considered historically significant by preservation groups such as Historic Richmond, which had put the house on its list of at-risk properties in light of Union’s interest in developing the neighboring apartments.

The house, originally built around the turn of the 19th century and added onto decades later, was not listed on state or national historic registers but was considered by the nonprofit as eligible for listing.

“We, along with many in the community, are disappointed and dismayed at the loss of one of the oldest structures in Northside,” Cyane Crump, executive director of Historic Richmond, said in an email Wednesday.

“Despite our best efforts with Preservation Virginia to work with Union Presbyterian Seminary to chart a path for restoration and reuse of this historic structure, they demolished it yesterday,” Crump said. “The house was significant as one of the oldest remaining homes in the Northside area around Sherwood Park and for its evolution as a country house.”

She added, “The building had, and the remaining portion of the Westwood site still has, much to teach us of the evolution of the area and the people whose lives were touched by it.”

The original structure, dating back to the turn of the 19th century, was added onto decades later.

In a statement that Union has posted on a website about goings-on at the Westwood Tract, Frontiero said the seminary offered to give the house away if it could be moved from the site, but the process was deemed too expensive and funds were never offered in conversations with the preservation groups.

“Names of foundations were suggested, but the seminary would have had to assign staff to research and potentially apply for grants,” the statement said. “Such staffing would have been cost-prohibitive, and the anticipated grant totals would not have come close to covering renovation costs.”

Union acquired the property following McGuire’s death in 1900, when seminary supporters raised funds to buy the farmhouse and surrounding acreage. The structure had housed seminary students over the years and most recently was used for storage.

A northward view of the structure that was demolished.

With the house now razed, Frontiero said Union has no immediate plans for the site, though it could become part of its planned “Yaupon Place,” a multiuse greenspace that would be shared with the public and consist of the rest of the tract that’s not part of Canopy at Ginter Park.

Part of that land is leased to Shalom Farms, which manages a community garden near the house site that Frontiero said could be expanded.

The 19 acres of the tract that would comprise Yaupon Place also includes a public walking trail, older Union-owned apartments and the vacant Rice apartment building, which Frontiero said is planned to be razed as well to make way for more greenspace.

Union has said it has no plans to build more apartments on the tract, about half of which it sold to Bristol Development Group for the Canopy apartments. Completed last spring, the 301-unit complex was sold last month for nearly $84 million to Henrico-based real estate firm Capital Square.

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David Gammino
David Gammino
2 months ago

This story is heartbreaking, both as it regards the demolition of this historic structure and the patently obvious and disingenuous justification. Of all the institutions, you’d think a freaking educational seminary would just have the intellectual honesty to admit why this decision was made.
“We will give it away, but oh, if we cant-we need to demo it “as recognition of and in repentance for the resourcing provided to the seminary through the labor of enslaved persons.”
What a total load of bullsh*t.

kay christensen
kay christensen
2 months ago
Reply to  David Gammino

Wow…what a short-sighted move by the seminary. Erasing history won’t change it nor will it lead to any sort of meaningful change. Cancel culture driven by political correctness will have a significant backlash.

glenna tilman
glenna tilman
1 month ago

Kay, you are so right!

Cynthia Oliver
Cynthia Oliver
2 months ago
Reply to  David Gammino

I agree David, this is truly sad & so hypocritical for a seminary. There is so much I want to say, but just too depressed about the situation of rewriting history. Our poor City!

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
2 months ago
Reply to  David Gammino

If Bizsense keeps records for up votes I think Dave may have set a new mark with his strongly worded objection to this desecration of Richmond history. Dave rarely holds back his feelings, right or wrong, and he certainly put his best foot forward on this one! My high school history teacher taught that there is a “right reason” and a “real reason” for every decision. The Seminary has attempted to state a “right” reason, regardless of its high score for lameness, but I think we’re going to hear very shortly what the “real” reason is. They are clearing that… Read more »

Bruce Anderson
Bruce Anderson
2 months ago
Reply to  David Gammino

I’m with David. These people should be more ashamed of themselves for that pathetic and insincere statement than for tearing down the building.

glenna tilman
glenna tilman
1 month ago
Reply to  David Gammino

David, I like your comment.

Frank Smith
Frank Smith
2 months ago

Not going to touch the “enslaved” thing, but do want to say thank you to the author of this piece. I can tell you put some legwork into it, and appreciate it.

Christopher Branch
Christopher Branch
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank Smith

What a slap in the face to the skilled enslaved artisans who toiled and built what was probably one of the nicest houses around. By demolishing this historic house, Union has erased or “cancelled” their hard work and obvious skill. Instead of “repenting”, they have committed an egregious offense to the memory of all those who help build our country whether free or not. If they really wanted to “repent’ they could have restored the house to its beauty and told a fascinating story that honored those who built it and the accomplishments of Dr McQuire. In a time where… Read more »

Richard Rumrill
Richard Rumrill
2 months ago

An historic structure engineer said this about death; The first death is when you breath your last breath. The second is when you are put in the ground. The third is when your name is last spoken. The final death is when your work disappears from the earth. Christopher you are exactly correct that Union has ‘erased’ the work of skilled artisans who were tragically enslaved. Ivan Denisovich, in “A day in the live of Ivan Denisovich” by Solzhenitsyn is a story about a starving Gulag prisoner who is physically and emotionally near death. His only pleasure in life is… Read more »

Vonda Kelly
Vonda Kelly
2 months ago

Amen Christopher.

Bruce Hobart
Bruce Hobart
2 months ago

Sad, sad indeed.

Steve Cook
Steve Cook
2 months ago

I’m confused What did the house do that deserved “punishment?” Snd has tearing it down made everything right?

John Jones
John Jones
2 months ago

Destroy the patriarchy!! Serves those racists right.

John Signs
John Signs
2 months ago

Shame

John Lindner
John Lindner
2 months ago

I supposed by this twisted logic, we should be tearing down Monticello, UVA’s Rotunda and Maymont mansion, just to name a few. Boy, that could be a long list.

The ironic thing is that they do more injury to the cause of racial justice by trotting out this bogus justification than if they had just given a straightforward economic explanation.

I was 100% behind them when they decided to build apartments on their own open land despite neighborhood opposition. But this is bad PR at best, and a leadership failure at worst. What a shame.

Mike Frontiero
Mike Frontiero
2 months ago
Reply to  John Lindner

John Linder, this was not a straightforward economic decision. The house was not worthy of us preserving because it was a symbol of white supremacy due to those who continue to idolize McGuire’s memory and tout his accomplishments over the cause he fought for.

William Samuels
William Samuels
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Frontiero

Mr. Frontiero, why not go ahead and demolish the entire seminary. After all, it was primarily built using the donated money of Presbyterians from the South. Their family wealth most likely derived at least in part from the labor of slaves, even if the buildings were built after the Civil War. What twisted logic (or lacking thereof) you have!

kay christensen
kay christensen
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Frontiero

wow, just wow Mr. Frontiero- there are no words for you…Shameful.

Charles Jacobs
Charles Jacobs
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Frontiero

Mike, that’s a load of BS. By that logic we would be doing as John Lindner noted and tearing down a significant portion of the historic fabric of this country. For that matter, the US itself could be argued to be nothing but a symbol and monument to white supremacy. The nation was founded by a bunch of white European men, who in the process tried to extirpate indigenous Americans, while also using the labor of enslaved blacks, indentured lesser whites (mostly eastern Europeans), and the nearly indentured servitude and labor of Asians. It’s an often ugly history, but none… Read more »

SA Chaplin
SA Chaplin
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Frontiero

Mr. Frontiero – The cause for which Mr. McGuire “fought” was the right to secede (though, since he was an Army surgeon, I’m not sure how much “fighting” he actually did). Your comment suggests that you believe the American Civil War was fought to end slavery and that ending slavery was one of Lincoln’s goals. Of course, slavery had much to do with that war, but the morality of the institution was not the issue in that war, nor was ending slavery Lincoln’s goal in that war. (Fighting expansion of slavery into the western states was an issue, but even… Read more »

Steve Fisher
Steve Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  SA Chaplin

I believe the issue of States rights was fundamentally about the right to own and traffic other humans

glenna tilman
glenna tilman
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Fisher

You are incorrect on this point. There were also slaves in the north. Example- Lee would not own slaves. When his wife inherited slaves he gave them freedom. Grant owned slaves and his wife kept one throughout the Civil War.

Tim Harper
Tim Harper
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Frontiero

Does Union Theological Seminary pay real estate taxes? I live in the city and I struggle to pay my taxes. If they don’t pay taxes, they should since they are obviously just a political entity.

Last edited 2 months ago by Tim Harper
Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Frontiero

A slave commemoration memorial could have been erected on the site to explain their role on the construction. Give it up Mr. Linder, you have set the Bizsense record for down votes!

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
2 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

not Mr. Linder. my apology. Mr. Frontiero wrote that statement.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Frontiero

If would have thought the owner’s communications rep would have a better excuse that that. RVA was the capital of the Confederacy. Maybe it all should come down.

glenna tilman
glenna tilman
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Frontiero

You obviously know little or nothing about Dr. McGuire! You are spewing what liberals have taught you, and brainwashed you to believe. He was a humanitarian, an excellent, innovative doctor, and he started several hospitals that were needed. He did NOT “fight” in the war, but he cared for the wounded on both sides. Educate yourself and maybe some of your hatred will dissipate.

Denis Etonach
Denis Etonach
2 months ago

“I absolutely cannot believe they were allowed to do this.” — Every Generation to Come.

What a disgrace. Why are our historic structures not protected??? Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Oh, and it was a 1700s house, not 1800s.

karl hott
karl hott
2 months ago

I predict an ulterior motive by the Seminary that we will be unveiled in the coming months. This doesn’t pass the smell test and city leadership at some level should have intervened. It can be debated whether the Seminary has interacted with the community in good faith during recent years. This demolition is an embarrassment in a region with so much history.

Kevin Riley
Kevin Riley
2 months ago

Just because it is an old building does not mean it is worth saving. Depending on how much it had been added-on to and renovated over the years, the original “fabric” of the building may not have even existed in a form that was salvageable.

William Samuels
William Samuels
2 months ago
Reply to  Kevin Riley

Mr. Riley, we will never know now. Based on the photos, it definitely looked very old. Obviously, it was added on to and altered over the decades, which is true of most very old houses.

Melissa Savenko
Melissa Savenko
2 months ago
Reply to  Kevin Riley

Do you even know what you are talking about
Kevin Rliey? Clearly not. It was documented to be early 1800a, possibly even 1790s. And in very good, definitely salvageable condition.

Bryan Townes
Bryan Townes
2 months ago

Well, by their logic the Seminary should soon be relocating. After all, it moved to Richmond from Hampden-Sydney to be constructed on eleven acres in 1895. The benefactor who donated the land was none other than Major Lewis Ginter, an officer in the Confederate army and later philanthropist and developer of Ginter Park. So by their logic they should be returning the donated land to Ginter’s family – or at least pay them for the property to relieve themselves from the burden of having accepted a gift from a slave owner and Confederate officer.

Mary Stevens
Mary Stevens
2 months ago

You can’t get ahead by trying to get even.

Derek Woolwine
Derek Woolwine
2 months ago

Oh a racist house that had to be destroyed, how appropriate in these cancel culture days.

Brad Perry
Brad Perry
2 months ago

As someone who spends a lot of time at the Westwood Tract, I’m here to say that house was a rotting pile of boards – far from “the nicest house around.” Not sad that it’s gone.

I suspect the hand wringing here over the “erasure of history” and the lack of recognition for the “skilled enslaved artisans” is being driven by other motives than those stated. But by all means prove me wrong, and come out with this much passion to support the proposed slavery museum in The Bottom.

Robert Messer
Robert Messer
2 months ago
Reply to  Brad Perry

love this comment. i appreciate hearing from someone who actually spends time on the westwood tract and utilizes the public spaces created

Last edited 2 months ago by Robert Messer
glenna tilman
glenna tilman
1 month ago
Reply to  Brad Perry

Brad, I think that you do not understand other’s passion for history and historic buildings.

Matthew Maggy
Matthew Maggy
2 months ago

It’s their land, they can do what they want. That’s how private property works. My guess is they wanted to clear the land anyway and figured they might as well get some PR and shut down the preservation community’s arguments by hopping on the current woke political climate bandwagon and saying it’s for racial reconciliation. It’s a smart, if not transparent move.

Last edited 2 months ago by Matthew Maggy
Scott Jacob
Scott Jacob
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Maggy

Matt, now come on, “It’s their land they can do what they want”, is the same kind of snowflake excuse used by the same kinds of folks who complain that wearing a mask infringes upon their personal freedoms. It’s a poor excuse at best, and more realistically a crock of s#*t. History, our collective past, is an honor and a duty for us to conserve and preserve for the future telling of our story. We are merely caretakers of that story, and when a chapter or detail of that story is erased, or its evidence destroyed forever, then proof of… Read more »

david ringo
david ringo
2 months ago

This is a complete and utter farce…….Tearing down historical statues and memorials and now houses…all because they have ties to the South and the Confederacy…..Absolute madness….When will it stop..?..This Cancel Culture and Black Lives Matters etc etc……You people have never had it so good in this country. You cry and whine 24 hours a day….Blaming the Confederacy for all your problems and so stupid that you even compare them to the Nazis…..Really shows your knowledge of American History……..Cry cry cry little babies….

Lee Thomas
Lee Thomas
2 months ago
Reply to  david ringo

Uhmm, let’s see: the Confederates wanted to subjugate an entire race of people they falsely claimed were subhuman and inferior. The Nazis wanted to exterminate an entire race of people they claimed were subhuman and evil. Oops? Did I just compare Confederates to Nazis? Did you find it a favorable comparison? (And really, were they so different?) I personally think removing Confederate monuments was short sighted, and tearing down this house was a “mistake,” to put it mildly. Which is why I want you to know, David Ringo: rhetoric such as yours is a large part of the reason people… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Lee Thomas
Roger Turner
Roger Turner
2 months ago

I don’t have a strong opinion on this particular building one way however the comments intrigued me. As an observation one thing I have always noticed is that a great majority of the time the people that are all for preserving “any and every old building” are most often not the people charged with paying for it. Historic preservation can be very expensive, often times so much so that it would make the building impractical for public uses when figuring in the total cost. Someone used the example of the UVA Rotunda in their points. That building has been continually… Read more »

Lee Thomas
Lee Thomas
2 months ago
Reply to  Roger Turner

I think hostoric buildings tend to either A) add sufficient value to their surroundings to justify preservation from a policy perspective or B) will prove worth preserving purely in their own right over the long run. (Or, a mix of both. There’s definitely value to being in a historic district with preserved buildings) I live in a house that was purchased for about 40K and renovated to fairly exacting historical standards for about 250k. In the short term, I would guess it was only worth about 225k. And this is not a particularly large home. It’s hard to sort out… Read more »

Eurie Smith
Eurie Smith
2 months ago

As a graduate of UTS in '65, the conversion of that once august institution had already begun. The Seminary location through which the trenches in defense of Richmond were dug, are probably covered over. To judge men of bygone years by present standards is a sin. All this is gaslighting. Generations yet born will laugh at these actions as a sure sign of stupidity and are an excellent example of being persuaded that some one else's opinion of you is your own. The faculty of the Seminary was purely Confederate.. many were on Lee' staff The present Board will probably… Read more »

glenna tilman
glenna tilman
1 month ago

I was shocked and horrified when I read this article. The reason given for tearing the house down did not make any sense and it is a pompous, blatant lie. Dr. McGuire was my great-grandfather and yes, he was a Confederate, and he was a kind, brilliant man. After the war, most people had no money. He and another doctor shared one horse to visit patients so they could only go on alternate days. He treated anyone who needed help, rich, poor, destitute, white, or black. Union should be extremely ashamed of this iniquitous destruction of a gem of Richmond’s… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by glenna tilman