The rubbernecks are not from Middleburg. Folks in this wealthy refuge from ordinary living are too genteel to gawk at celebrities. When Jackie Kennedy lived here, she rode to the hounds like any other millionaire. And Liz Taylor shops at the local Safeway, in blue jeans, mind you, without autographing anything but her check.
So while Ronald Reagan, Middleburg's newest resident, is attracting a caravan of weekend traffic to the capital of Virginia's hunt country, including prominent politicians and advisers for patio staff briefings, and local refuse to be overly impressed.
"We've got people like Paul Mellon here with his own air strip -- why should we go gaga over a politician?" asks one woman in this Loudoun County town, which has preserved its 18th century architecture with 20th century wealth.
Most towns of 700 would hyperventilate over housing a presidential candidate, even temporarily. But since August, when Reagan and his wife Nancy rented Wexford, the 46-acre estate designed by Jackie Kennedy, Middleburg has remained characteristically aloof.
"We don't notice famous people like some towns would," says Alice Lloyd, owner of the Hamburger Hut, a funky, country diner, which seems misplaced beside the expensive boutiques and top-of-the-line tack shops. "I guess we've just grown up around those kind of people."
There are arguably more millionaires per square mile in the Middleburg area than anywhere in the United States. Mellon, who donated $94 million to build the East Wing of the National Gallery, owns an immodest spread near the town, as do Sen. Lloyd M. Bensten (D-Tex.) and W. Averell Harriman, the former ambassador to Moscow.
There are also residents living on welfare, in rundown tenant houses. But that is not the Middleburg of record, where pedigree matters more than money and publicity is avoided like a shabby coat.
"People come here because they know they can get away from all the attention. They don't need the circus," says Carolyn Sabol, a Middleburg real estate agent. "People here are so used to celebrities, he [Reagan] hardly made a dent."
Middleburg would seem to be friendly territory for Reagan. The area is overwhelmingly Republican. And in a contest between the softball-playing Jimmy Carter and the horse-riding Reagan, the social set in this thoroughbred town expresses a marked preference for the latter, even if his spurs do jingle a bit loudly.
"Regan's not the kind of horseperson that impresses Middleburg," says Connie Coopersmith, the editor of Spur Magazine. "He's not a steeplechase rider or hunter, more of a cowboy type."
The town administrator, the postmaster and the chief of Middleburg's three-man police force all report that Reagan's presence has created no local problems. But there have been some complaints about the periodic motorcades, with all those nasty flashing lights, that speed Reagan and his entourage down Rte. 50 through the center of town. And then there are the reporters who ask the most presumptuous questions. Middleburg, after all, is not Plains, Ga.
The only trauma that Reagan has wrought on the area has been at Trinity Episcopal Church in nearby Upperville. Twice Reagan has attended Sunday services at the church, and both times he and his Secret Service escort have raised eyebrows with their choice of pews.
"We don't have reserved seats here," says the Rev. Richard Peard, whose church was built 25 years ago, with the financial support of Paul Mellon, to resemble a French country chapel. "It may have been that some people used to sitting in a certain place were upset . . . but we're happy to have anyone come and worship here."
One potential problem concerns the security around the Wexford estate, which is rented to the Reagans by Republican Gov. William P. Clements Jr. of Texas. It is an unwritten law in Middleburg that all estates are open to horses and hounds during the fall fox-hunting season.
"We can't tell where the hounds are going to go," says Theodora Randolph, who is known locally as "the first lady of fox-hunting." Randolph has been assured that Reagan's presence will not interfere with time-honored tradition. a
"I think they [Reagan's people] have been very quiet, as I would expect them to be," says Randolph.
The merchants in Middleburg have mixed reviews for Reagan and his retinue.
The owner of the Black Walnut, a gourmet delicatessen, said she was "not thrilled" by the political crowd, partly because "they don't buy in here." "
James Stubblefield, on the other hand, fairly beams at the mention of Reagan's name. The 25-year-old owner of Middleburg Florists visits Wexford two or three times a week to deck the 14-room house in flowers.
The Iron Jockey, an expensive clothes boutigue, was the first store Nancy Reagan patronized in Middleburg. She reportedly bought $500 worth of corduroy pants, cashmere sweaters and Mary Chess bath oils. A few days later, her Secret Service escort returned to buy the same items for their own wives.
"I wouldn't think it would hurt business at all," concedes Gwen Dobson, the store's owner, who met Mrs. Reagan while working as a journalist in Washington.
At the Coach Stop restaurant, Middleburg's main gossip shop, Reagan as a topic conversation falls well down a list headed by horses and a recent love-triangle murder involving local horse people. When Reagan's name does come up, says manager Ron Harding, the comments are generally positive.
"I haven't heard anybody holler," says Harding, who describes the Coach Stop as "the in place to be, where you hear a lot of things you're not supposed to hear and a lot of things you do hear, you don't want to believe."
Ultimately, say Middleburg residents, the Reagans will have little effect on the community's well-ordered ways.
"This is a pretty unflappable town," says Dobson. "We had the Kennedys and the town survived. We have Liz Taylor and the town has survived. I think we can survive Ronald Reagan."