Because the Bailey's Crossroads school building was so small, students used the neighboring firehouse meeting hall as their student lounge from 1959 to 1964. They also enjoyed patronizing neighborhood businesses. Campus life at Bailey's centered around these locations.
Since George Mason College had no dorms, students spent their free time between morning and afternoon classes on or near campus. The combination of a small school building and constant togetherness fostered strong bonds between students and faculty, creating a casual learning environment with great camaraderie. Oral history interviews with former students Richard Sparks, Ann Walker Sparks, James Heath, Nancy Buddeke Heath, Helen Momsen, and Douglas Nelms describe the closeness and the spirit of fun that characterized student life at Bailey's. Additionally, Sparks and Nelms pursued photography as a hobby and captured students' experiences at George Mason College in Bailey’s Crossroads in the 1960s.
The neighboring Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department graciously offered to let the students use their second-floor meeting hall as a student lounge. It became a significant part of student life at Bailey’s Crossroads. They spent time between classes and ate their lunches there. Momsen and Nelms remembered students playing card games, including Bridge, Hearts, and Spades in the student lounge. Fire sirens occasionally disrupted the students’ leisure time since the fire station was in active use.
The student lounge featured soda and candy vending machines, which the student body owned and moved from the schoolhouse to the fire hall. The fire department hosted bingo games in their meeting hall on the weekends. Heath recalled refilling the soda machines because they were empty by the middle of each bingo game. As a result, the student body had a steady supply of money for the treasury. They eventually sold the vending machines to the fire department.
When not in the student lounge, students spent time in the small campus library, played sports on the lawn and patronized nearby businesses. Nelms enjoyed Gifford’s Ice Cream and ate lunch from Steak ‘N a Sack, a restaurant owned and operated by a Palestinian immigrant family. Sparks bought lunch from the nearby Krispy Kreme because it was inexpensive, and he did not have to cross the highway. Walker Sparks ate lunch from Hot Shoppes, just across the highway, and Burger Chef, a McDonald’s competitor. They also enjoyed movies at the Flying Saucer Drive Inn on Leesburg Pike. Sparks highlighted some of these places a map he created in the early 2000s.
The student government met in the fire department hall, where they held debates and elections. In the spring of 1963, Momsen, then a first-year student, ran for student body president as the first female candidate, losing by fewer than ten votes. As a consolation prize, an administrator handed Momsen a stack of mimeographed pages. These were copies of the then-current student "newspaper", Perspective. She was offered the job of editor of the student newspaper. Momsen used her connections to establish a high-quality newspaper for George Mason College, which she named The Gunston Ledger. The Gunston Ledger became the chronicle of student life and created a legacy of Mason student media that continues today.
Although the students knew that the Bailey’s Crossroads campus was temporary, they were fond of their school. Nelms gleefully recalled students playing pranks on each other and their professors. Sparks admitted that when he first arrived, he did not take his studies seriously and frequently skipped classes. However, despite students’ laid-back attitudes toward learning, they admired and respected the faculty. For example, Sparks and Heath recognized the positive impact that Dr. Fanny-Fern Davis had on their academic and career development. Buddeke Heath concurred that the teaching was “first-class.” Although Walker Sparks and Sparks continued their education at other prestigious schools, they felt most attached to Mason.
The students’ pride in the Bailey’s Crossroads campus is evident in their determination to establish a campus culture and lasting traditions and their bittersweet feelings toward moving to the Fairfax campus. An excerpt from Kathy Howell’s “Winding up the Semester that Was” column in The Gunston Ledger, Volume 1, Number 4.5, details students’ affinity for their campus and its culture.