AMHERST COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — State and local officials are trying to get 350 acres of land in Amherst County cleaned up, zoned, and occupied. It’s the campus of what was the Central Virginia Training Center (CVTC), with a history dating all the way back to 1910.
While CVTC helped many disabled residents over the years, those grounds are also where a very dark chapter in American history played out.
Megan Lucas, CEO of Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance (LRBA), is excited about what will become of the land.
“We have an opportunity to really telescope the vision for the future of our region,” Lucas said. “There are still a lot of hurdles associated with this piece of property.”
Before the federal government shut it down — a process that took a decade and finally finished in 2020 — CVTC had a yearly economic impact of more than $87 million. Now, that economic impact is gone and the LRBA is working with the Commonwealth to get the land thriving once again.
The hurdles, however, are significant. There are 98 buildings on site, mostly full of asbestos and lead-based paint. There are roughly $30 million in bonds tied to the property, but there has been interest.
According to Lucas, “I’ve had a meeting with a developer in Dallas who is interested in the site. I’ve had meetings with local developers who are interested in the site and we’ve received calls from folks who are interested as well.”
Author Dr. Paul Lombardo has not called, but he has a request.
“I think that, at the very least, the state should ensure, and the people there in Lynchburg should ensure, that the memories of what happened there are not somehow scrubbed away,” Dr. Lombardo said.
Dr. Lombardo is referring to a stain on the history of Virginia and several other states, a reprehensible program that took place on CVTC’s grounds: eugenics.
Back then, many states forcibly sterilized thousands of residents, men and women — because they were fed by the notion that socially unfit people, those with intellectual disabilities, criminals, the poor, and those deemed to be without morals — would pass those traits onto their children.
“There are headlines from the era which basically say eugenics is the way to lower taxes,” Dr. Lombardo explained. “We’ll eliminate hospitals. We’ll eliminate asylums and various kinds of places where we take care of people at public cost. We’ll eliminate poverty, so we won’t have to worry about people in that setting. And these are all used as financial reasons that we need to have sterilization laws.”
Dr. Lombardo wrote a book about eugenics: Three Generations, No Imbeciles, after he was shocked when he read about a Virginia case, Buck v. Bell, that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927, and the blunt opinion written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., giving the Commonwealth legal permission to sterilize a woman named Carrie Buck.
It read, in part, “Instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”
Holmes then referred to the Buck family, saying, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Adolf Hitler found that ruling, and the entire eugenics program quite appealing, helping lead Nazi Germany to its program of racial cleansing.
Over the years, what started as the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded became the Central Virginia Training Center.
Now, decades after the last reported sterilization occurred there in 1956, and a few years after the final disabled patients were served there, the land must start yet another chapter.
A feasibility study has been underway and should be completed within the next few months.
Lucas points to the many possibilities, mixed-use residential, corporate park scenarios, retail, restaurants, and breweries across the James River from the City of Lynchburg.
She and Dr. Lombardo also want a plan to remember, some sort of memorial to the people whose lives were impacted by the facility, whether it be from its inception as the colony, where the concept of eugenics was created, or to the people who lived here and were treated for various disabilities, or to the lives that were buried on that land in the seven-acre cemetery on site. Approximately 1,500 people are buried there.
In the words of Dr. Lombardo, “I think there’s a great deal of remembering that needs to go on.”