John Kelly's Washington

Baileys Crossroads windmill a vestige of a slower-moving Fairfax, Va.

This old windmill, rising amid the hurly-burly of Baileys Crossroads, is a remnant of a less hectic, less crowded time in Fairfax County.
This old windmill, rising amid the hurly-burly of Baileys Crossroads, is a remnant of a less hectic, less crowded time in Fairfax County. (Photo: John Kelly/The Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Sunday, March 28, 2010

There is an honest-to-goodness windmill at Baileys Crossroads, right at the corner where Columbia Pike and Route 7 intersect. It's at the northeast corner of the intersection, near the on-ramp for Route 7 headed toward Leesburg. It's an odd sight in that location and must have a story behind it. Can you find out its background?

-- Mary Bowie, Arlington

That is Amanda Payne's windmill. Answer Man will get to her in a minute, but first let us contemplate the neighborhood in which her windmill sits.

Baileys Crossroads is at the northeastern edge of Fairfax County. It takes its name from Hachaliah Bailey -- and let us all be thankful it isn't called "Hachaliahs Crossroads."

Bailey was an entrepreneur from Somers, N.Y., who owned the second, third and fourth elephants in the United States. The obvious question: Who owned the first? Bailey's brother-in-law, who made so much money displaying the pachyderm in the early 19th century that Hachaliah decided to follow suit and get a few of his own.

It was Bailey's son Lewis who made Hachaliah aware of land for sale in Virginia. Lewis was an itinerant entertainer, a clown whose circus would stop in Alexandria. In 1837, Hachaliah bought 536 acres at the intersection of two major turnpikes.

The relevant vertical files in the Virginia Room of the Fairfax County Library include blue slips of paper that read: "WARNING This file has not been reviewed by staff for content, so it may contain incorrect and/or misleading information."

What especially galls the librarians there -- who, like all good librarians, are sticklers for documentary evidence -- is the widespread belief that Hachaliah Bailey had elephants at Baileys Crossroads, that his land served as the winter quarters for his circus. There is not one contemporary source -- not a single newspaper clipping, not a single tax record, not a single piece of correspondence ("Rode atop a mighty beaft today at the Bailey houfe") -- to support this. So if you've been spreading that rumor, knock it off.

Well, what about the Bailey connection to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus? Well, Lewis Bailey was the first to use a canvas tent for a circus, and a more distant Bailey, related to a nephew through adoption, is the Bailey whose circus became part of the Greatest Show on Earth.

During the Civil War, the area was trod by both Confederate and Union forces. The Confederates had a fort there that they stocked with ersatz artillery: tree trunks done up to look like weapons. These "Quaker guns" (so-called because of that sect's aversion to war) fooled the Union.

While in Union hands, Baileys Crossroads was the site of a massive troop review: more than 50,000 soldiers, inspected by Abraham Lincoln himself. (It was after witnessing this spectacle that Julia Ward Howe wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic.")

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