"Sorry, No Elephant Buried at Baileys Crossroads" Baileys Crossroads by VA_Dave

Baileys Crossroads Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 2 photos

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Now you can know the truth about the town where I live near Washington, DC:

From a Washington Post article

History at the Crossroads

By David Cho

Contrary to widespread local belief, the circus never camped at Baileys Crossroads. Nor, as some have written, was an elephant ever buried near the junction of Columbia and Leesburg pikes, the crossroads at the heart of the community.

Naomi Zeavin wants to set the record straight on how this swath of eastern Fairfax County came to be. For starters: The Bailey who gave his name to Baileys Crossroadsin the late 1830s (that would be Hachaliah) is not the same Bailey who in 1881 helped launch the Greatest Show on Earth (that would be James).

"What makes Baileys Crossroads significant historically has little to do with the circus," said local historian Zeavin, and "everything to do with a very hardworking, very entrepreneurial family."

Indeed, a summer-long retrospective opening today tells the story of an enterprising family of farmers, led by Hachaliah Bailey's son Lewis, who moved south from New Yorkin 1837hoping for a better life. It's a story that Zeavin believes will resonate with those who call the community home today, in particular the thousands of immigrant families -- the majority of them Hispanic -- who have poured into Baileys Crossroads in recent years.

The purpose of the Fairfax County Park Authority exhibit, set up in the Clark House on Barcroft Mews Drive, is not simply to showcase old photographs and antiques, but to debunk the myths and help area residents draw a connection to the past, Zeavin said.

"In some ways, the Baileys were immigrants to Virginia, too, just from New York, rather than [overseas]. They knew what it was like to move to a foreign place. I think they would be proud of what is going on here today."

Lewis Bailey would not recognize his land or the people who live there now.

A Safeway sits where his grand mansion used to be. Little evidence of the old house exists, save a tiny marker squeezed between the Old Navy and Staples stores at the Baileys Crossroads Shopping Center.

Rising to the east is the Skyline high-rise complex of office buildings, apartments and condominiums. To the west along Leesburg Pike, restaurants serve up Vietnamese, Thai, Salvadoran, Korean and Brazilian dishes, to name a few. Bailey's Elementary School counts children from 45 countries who speak 20 languages.

"It would be hard to find a more diverse melting pot in the entire Washington area," said Fairfax Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason).

Still, links to the past do exist. Lewis Bailey's great-granddaughters, Dodie Bailey Wrenn and Evelyn "Billie" Bailey Wahl, 89 and 91 respectively, remember when dairy cows ambled up Leesburg Pike and when, as children, they rode horses across farms and meadows long since turned into shopping strips and apartments.

"It's not easy remembering the past," Wahl said with tears in her eyes. "Sometimes I try not to think about it."

Part 2 of 2

Gross and others have worked at getting longtime Baileys residents, its recent immigrants and a third group -- young professionals living in Skyline -- together. The supervisor holds monthly meetings aimed at fostering interaction.

Jorge Figueredo, head of the Hispanic Committee of Virginia, a prominent civic group, said he hopes Hispanics will visit the Clark House exhibit. "We need to find ways to bridge the gaps between the communities," he said. "This could be one."

Much of what's on display was borrowed from Wahl and Wrenn's nearby house on Sleepy Hollow Road: a school bell from the early 20th century, a chair from the old family home, some photographs of what the area looked like a century ago. A history of the family written by Zeavin is also part of the exhibit.

According to the book, Hachaliah (pronounced Heck-a-LIE-uh) Bailey bought 536 acres in what is now Baileys Crossroads in 1837 for $6,000. Hachaliah Bailey made his fortune by acquiring an elephant named Old Bet and parading the prized pachyderm around the country.

Neither he nor Old Bet ever lived in Fairfax. It was Hachaliah's son Lewis who moved the family from New York in 1837. Lewis had nine sons and a daughter, and when they grew up and started their own businesses, Baileys Crossroads took shape as a 19th century form of one-stop shopping.

Lewis Bailey was distantly related to the James A. Bailey of circus fame; early in life, Lewis Bailey was a clown in some traveling shows but that was long before he brought his family to Virginia. And the Barnum & Bailey circus never came any closer to the crossroads than Alexandria.

While popping that balloon may disappoint some who have heard the legend of Baileys, Zeavin isn't one of them. "The story of Baileys Crossroads is all about staking your claim in a new place, making it in a foreign land," she said. "It's a story that's happening over and over again here. I hope people see why it's so relevant to us today."


For more information, see the Wikipedia Link

  • Last visit to Baileys Crossroads: Jun 2004
  • Intro Updated Jun 8, 2007
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Comments (2)

  • zanzooni's Profile Photo
    Nov 14, 2007 at 8:48 PM

    LOL..thanks for posting that road side marker here. I always wondered what it said...A circus?? How appropriate for this neck of the weeds...~

  • newyorkerman's Profile Photo
    Jun 8, 2007 at 12:03 PM

    It does sound like showmanship was a part of the Bailey family character, even if J.P. and Hachaliah weren't closely related.


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