The area know as Bailey's Crossroads has a history which stretches back to the days of buffalo and Indians. What is now Leesburg Pike (Route 7), began as a buffalo trail and later was adapted as an Indian trail. It ran across a ridge that went from the Potomac River in present day Old Town Alexandria to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Leesburg.
In Colonial times, the land was part of Lord Fairfax's original royal grant. Pieces were sold and George Washington possessed the land which now houses the Skyline complex. He called it his "upper tract," his low tract being his Mt. Vernon land on the Potomac River. George surveyed the land in 1799, as well as land for some of the District of Columbia boundary stones. Boundary Stone #6 (which still sits in the middle of S. Jefferson St. past the Giant Grocery store), was the second of 40 stones laid.
The 330 acres of the immediate crossroads area and Glen Forest were sold to Captain Simon Pearson in 1729. By 1773, the land was bought by John Luke Sr. as a wedding gift for John Jr. and his bridge Elizabeth. They build a brick colonial style mansion at the present site of Durbin Place. They also leased a house on Leesburg Pike to Jacob Bontz who turned it into Bontz's Tavern Hotel iin 1797. (The windmill now sits there.)
Before 1809, the current crossroads was not a crossroads, but a "fork in the road to Cameron", which is now Seminary Rd. 1809 brought the construction of the Washington Graveled Turnpick (Columbia Pike). In 1817, William Beverly Randolph, who had bought the old mansion house, named it "Maury" and added some wooden wings to the brick structure. The little carriage lane which had always connected the mansion house with the crossroads area became know as "Maury Lane."
In 1837, Hachaliah Bailey of Westport, NY, brought 526 acres of land surrounding the intersection of two important highways: Leesburg and Columbia Turnpikes. He gave Bailey's Crossroads his name and it became the winter headquarter for his small circus which featured American's first elephant. He lived at Maury and just across the way (where Glen Forest School now stands), he had a barn to house the animals. A tent was erected on the barnyard grounds for circus shows before the troupe went on tour in the warmer weather. In 1843, Bailey deeded the land to Mariah Bailey, his daughter-in-law, who upgraded the former Bontz's Tavern into the Crossroads Inn. She fed and housed travelers, circus personnel and cattle drovers until 1861 when the Civil War put an end to the circus.
The war wrote a new chapter to the area's history. Maury was used to quarter officers alternately by Confederate and Union troups. A confederate fort was built atop Munson Mill and was prized for its prime view all the way into Washington where Union troops could be seen drilling on the Mall. J.E.B. Stuart commanded Fort Munson for a time and made general while there. Union troops, who occupied everything for miles on three sides of the fort (Alexandria, Bailey's Crossroads, Arlington, Seven Corners, and Falls Church) never tried to overrun the fort because they thought it was so
heavily barricaded by cannons. Only after the Confederate troops slipped away one night and retreated to the safety of Fairfax City, did the Union troups discover that those fearsome cannons were really just tree trunks, blackened with bootblack and charcoal and propped up with carriage wheels. They called them "Quaker guns" because the pacifist Quakers don't fight and these "guns" don't shoot.
Following the first Battle of Manassas, President Lincoln called for a huge massing of the troops to build flagging troop morale. The parade route stretched along Leesburg Pike from Bailey's Crossroads to Munson Hill on November 20, 1861. Hundreds of soldiers bivouacked at Camp Bailey's Crossroads. Lincoln and his entire cabinet came out from Washington to review the parade of 60,000 troups with their horses, carts, wagons, and cannons which took all day and into the evening. The president and his party had dinner at the Crossroads Inn.
Among the throng of 60,000 visitors on hand to view the parade was a young poet, Julia Ward Howe. On her carriage ride back to the Willard Hotel that night, with returning troops marching alongside and singing over and over a favorite Union tune ("John Brown's body lies a moldering in the grave.."), she was challenged by a companion to write new words to that tune. Back in her hotel room, she could not sleep and penned the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
When the war ended, Mariah Bailey turned the old circus ring into a riding ring, and dismantled the Crossroad Inn. In 1870, she gave the land (where the Malibu Grill is now located) for the first Bailey's School. The elementary was leased, in 1957, to the University of Virginia for the new University College. In 1960 this became George Mason College (now University).
Luther Payne purchased 70 at the Crossroads and built three stone houses for his family. The windmill in the cloverleaf is the sole survivor of the Payne Estate. Payne donated the land for Glen Forest School in 1950. Meanwhile Maury had been sold to a wealthy Washingtonian for his summer house. As the century closed; it fell into disrepair in the 1830's and burned down in 1943.
The 20th Century saw this area grow from a sleepy Washington bedroom community into a bustling multi-cultural community. Glen Forest subdivision was built in the mid 50's. The Skyline complex was bult in the early 70's replacing a small craft airport know as the Washington - Virginia Airport; Hechinger's replaced a drive-in movie theater. In 1993-94 the old Payne property was swallowed up by the new Crossroads Center.
Almost nothing remains of Bailey's Crossroads history except the stories, but as long as a few copies remain of Jan Chapman Whitt's little book, "Elephants and Quaker Guns", future generations at least will know of the proud heritage, even if there's nothing left to see or touch.