Virginia, the state that has been mother to eight presidents from George Washington to Woodrow Wilson, has lost claim to a portion of that heritage to foreigners.
Greenway, the birthplace in 1790 of President John Tyler in Charles City County, was sold Sept. 21 to West German timber magnates. That same day, an English farmer bought Montebello, reputed birthplace in 1784 of Zachary Taylor in the rolling hill country of Orange County.
"I think it's a bit unfortunate and I'm sorry to see it happen," said historian Virginius Dabney in Richmond, who said he learned of the sales only yesterday.
"It does seem somewhat inappropriate for foreigners to own these properties," agreed Tucker Hill, executive director of the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. "Then again, some Virginians get upset when northerners buy property here."
History does not come cheap, Heinrich Harling K.G., the West German family timber partnership, paid $1,006,000 to the estate of Richmond lawyer C. W. Beale for Greenway, a 1,200-acre estate on the north bank of the James River about halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg.
Geoffrey Woolard, buyer of Montebello, paid the estate of Norfolk lawyer J. Barbour Rixey slightly more than $400,000 for that 273-Acre property, located about 80 miles southwest of Washington.
Greenway, which includes a 12-room Williamsburg-style house built in the second half of the 18th century and the remains of Tyler's honeymoon cottage, has been on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historical Places since 1969.
But Hill said registration could not legally prevent an owner from altering the historic buildings or even tearing them down.
"All we have is moral clout," said Hill. "We'd hope we could work with the new owners and offer our technical advice should they plan any changes."
The Harlings were not available for comment, but William T. Stevens, president and owner of the Charlottesville real estate company that handled both sales, said the purchasers had no intention of making major alterations.
"The home appealed to them very much and several members of the family plan to vacation and possibly live there," said Stevens, who said the German family plans to grow and harvest timber on the property.
Tyler's descendants, some of whom still live in the county, apparently approved of the sale even though the property had long since passed out their hands. Stevens said Tyler's grandson, David Gardiner Tyler Jr., a retired attorney, had researched the land title for the sale.
Stevens said Englishman Woolard plans to grow grass, hay and small grains at Montebello, whose historic significance is in dispute. A 1907 history of Orange County claimed Taylor was born at the Montebello main house while the family was en route to Kentucky with a wagon train.
But county historian William H. B. Thomas says he suspects Taylor was born at another site in the county.
"I'd be a lot more upset about this sale if I thought Montebello was definitely the birthplace," Thomas said yesterday.
Virginia is a prime real estate location for foreigners, according to Stevens, who says they like the relatively quick access they have to Europe via Dulles International Airport.
A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said both purchases will have to be registered with the department because the land is to be used for farming. The owners have 90 days to register and the spokesman could not say yesterday whether either had done so.
As for Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton, who has been promoting foreign business investment in the state, a spokesman said he doubted the governor would have any reservations about the purchases.
"The question is whether an historical site is receiving appropriate care and treatment -- not who owns it," said Dalton press aide Paul G. Edwards.