The stories of PBS’ Mercy Street live in Alexandria. Now that you’ve seen the show, you can explore the real sites, stories and people that inspired the series right here in Alexandria.
Fans of Mercy Street can venture out on their self-guided walking tour at any time on any day and immerse themselves in the real sites and stories of Civil war Alexandria—the same sites and stories that had the stars of PBS’ Mercy Street in awe when they visited. You can print the map at the top of this post to take with you, or use your phone as you go.
In-Depth and Personal Guided Tours
Alexandria has some extraordinary Mercy Street inspired tours for those who prefer an in-depth and personalized experience. For more information, please contact these tour operators:
- DC Military Tour offers a Mercy in Alexandria walking tour (by appointment and Sundays at 1:30) as well as the Medical Heroism in Alexandria tour by land and water (Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.)
- Footsteps to the Past offers an exclusive, one of a kind tour of the Carlyle House, called Walking Behind the Scenes at Mansion House Hospital (Offered every Saturday)
- Alexandria Colonial Tours also has The Mercy Walk, which gives visitors a feel for what Alexandria was like during the Civil War (March 25, 26, 27 & April 1,2,3 at 2:30 p.m.)
- Lee-Fendall House will also offer a special Beyond the Battlefield Walking Tour (May 14, July 9, September 10 and November 12)
1. Carlyle House and former Mansion House Hotel
121 N. Fairfax St.
Start your tour at Carlyle House, where the real Green family of PBS’ Mercy Street lived, now a museum. Next door on the corner of Cameron and Fairfax streets stands the original building patriarch James Green turned into the Mansion House Hotel in 1849. The hotel was later seized by Union forces and turned into a Civil War hospital, where nurses like the real Mary Phinney worked treating soldiers. If you look closely at the wall of the bank building to the right of Carlyle House, you can still see the joints where the hotel addition was attached and later torn down in the 1970’s.
If you’re visiting while the Carlyle House is open, stop in for a guided tour to learn more about the real stories that inspired Mercy Street. Be sure to check their calendar for special Mercy Street inspired events and exhibits.
2. Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
105-107 S. Fairfax St.
Actresses of Mercy Street from L to R: Hannah James (Emma Green), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Mary Phinney) and Tara Summers (Anne Hastings) inside the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary. M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria.
Next, it’s a short walk (400 feet) to the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, where the real-life Green family frequently shopped in the 1800’s. When the shop, which served as a cross between “CVS and Home Depot” according to museum curator Callie Stapp, closed in 1933, the door was simply locked. The interior stayed intact as it had been during operation, with even the contents of the jars preserved, making the apothecary feel less like a museum and more like a time-machine that brings you back to the era of Mercy Street.
If you’re visiting while the museum is open, take the tour—and a step back in time—to see the exquisite medical equipment and elixirs up close.
3. Former Green Furniture Factory
Corner of Prince and Fairfax Streets
Then and Now: The Green Steam Furniture building as it appeared during operation on the left, and as it appears today on the right. Credit: Library of Congress and Google Maps.
Alexandria’s wealthiest and most successful entrepreneur before the Civil War was James Green, Emma Green’s father. He certainly was a busy man, running his hotel operation in addition to the Green Steam furniture factory. Although the real James Green did not make coffins as seen in Mercy Street, the building that housed his furniture factory in Alexandria still stands on the corner of Prince and Fairfax streets, less than 400 feet from the apothecary.
You can see the largest public collection of Green family furniture at Alexandria’s own Lee-Fendall House Museum.
4. The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum
201 S. Washington St.
Courtsey of The Lyceum
Less than half a mile up Prince Street, you can find a collection of some of the Green family furniture at The Lyceum. The building is its own piece of history—like the Mansion House Hotel, it was also repurposed as a hospital during the Civil War. If you visit while the museum is open, you can also view their exhibit Alexandria’s Nurses & Hospitals During the Civil War to learn more about the real women who inspired the characters of Mary Phinney and Anne Hastings.
5. Franklin and Armfield Historical Marker
1315 Duke St.
R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria
From the Lyceum, you can walk half a mile to the Franklin and Armfield historical marker, or shorten the walk by heading back to King Street and taking the Free King Street Trolley to a nearby drop-off.
Mercy Street isn’t the first time Alexandria’s African American history has been featured in film or television. In the stunning true story told in the major motion picture 12 Years a Slave, free Black man Solomon Northup is kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he subsequently spends an agonizing twelve years in captivity. James Burch (Birch), the DC-based slave dealer responsible for selling the real Northup into slavery, would go on to become one of the last owners of one of the largest slave trading companies in the country, Franklin and Armfield in Alexandria, from 1859 to 1861.
Today, the building is home to the Freedom House Museum and the Northern Virginia Urban League. If you are touring while the Freedom House Museum is open, you don’t want to miss the experience of witnessing the powerful stories of the enslaved in the same space where they were once held.
Before you head to the final site of the tour, stop by the educational panel about the Toussaint L’Ouverture Hospital around the corner from Freedom House on S. Payne St. The hospital served African American troops and contraband families, and during the Civil war the building’s basement was used as a jail.
6. Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery
1001 S. Washington St.
Mercy Street actress L. Scott Caldwell during a visit to the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery
Just under a mile away (and well-worth the walk) is the last stop on the self-guided tour, Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery. Between 1864 and 1869, the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery served as the burial place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Union-occupied Alexandria to escape from bondage, but did not live long in freedom. Visitors can experience a memorial park that commemorates the free African-American men, women and children interred on its grounds. Based on the Gladwyn Record, the name and age of each freedmen buried in the cemetery is poignantly etched into bronze panels. Nothing can resonate like the power of stepping back and seeing the scope of all the names together.
The Memorial also features artist Mario Chiodo’s sculpture “The Path of Thorns and Roses,” an allegorical depiction of the struggle for freedom. The Memorial’s bas-reliefs depicting the flight to freedom were done by local sculptor Joanna Blake, and tell vivid stories of what life was like for the freedmen.
For more on Alexandria’s African American history as it relates to Mercy Street, click here.
Want more Mercy Street? If you’re visiting while the Alexandria Black History Museum is open, this is the perfect way to round out the Mercy Street inspired Experience in Alexandria.
Join the Conversation!
Header image courtesy of S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria