After being approved for operation by the Virginia General Legislature in 1956, the institution that became George Mason University began in an old elementary school building at the intersection of Columbia and Leesburg Pikes in the Bailey's Crossroads section of eastern Fairfax County in the fall of 1957.
The former Bailey’s Elementary School located at 5836 Columbia Pike was a small well-used eight-room red-brick schoolhouse built in 1922. “Old Bailey’s” was abandoned in 1954 for a new one nearby. The University of Virginia leased the building from Fairfax County Public Schools for $600.00 per year, moved into the building in the summer of 1957, and began classes that September with seventeen students. John Norville Gibson Finley, formerly an English professor from the campus at Charlottesville was named the college's director.
The lower level had four classrooms (two science labs and two lecture rooms). Up the creaky staircase from the mail entrance were three rooms that comprised the library and one classroom.
Because all spaces in the building were in use at all times, there was no place for students to socialize before and after class. To help remedy this, the Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department next door kindly allowed students at the college to use the station’s upstairs break room and bingo hall as a lounge.
Space for other collegiate activities was always at a premium. There was no room that could house more than 30 people comfortably. As a result, functions such as assemblies, meetings, dances, and Final Day Exercises (since there were no terminal degree programs at the branch “Final Day Exercises” were the equivalent of commencement) were held at locations nearby, such as the Bailey’s Crossroads Fire Department, the Alexandria Episcopal Seminary, and local hotels and churches. Athletic events, which were never more than a pick-up or faculty vs. student game, took place either on the dirt field adjacent to the building which doubled as overflow parking or on the fields of local schools, such as Glen Forest Elementary School, which was located one-half mile to the northwest.
Bailey’s served as the primary location for the University College (which would later be renamed George Mason College in January 1960) from September 1957 until August 1964. Though conditions were challenging for the early pioneers at Bailey’s Crossroads, the students, staff, and the local population became fond of their school, and some were even sad to have to leave.
The staying power of Bailey’s (or BXU as some Mason students affectionately called it) is a testament to the commitment of the people of Northern Virginia toward higher education. Individuals from all backgrounds and parts of the area labored to make certain that Bailey’s would make a go of it until more permanent quarters were available. This was finally realized on August 27, 1964, when the last of the moving vans left Bailey’s with equipment and furniture bound for the brand-new permanent campus just south of Fairfax.