Top 4 Mercy Street Inspired Sites to Visit in Alexandria
PBS original drama Mercy Street is inspired by real events from Alexandria’s Civil War history. Today visitors to Alexandria can experience the Mercy Street story up close at the historic sites where the real-life soldiers, doctors and nurses depicted in the series lived out divided loyalties and moral dilemmas during the longest Union occupation of any Confederate city. Below are the top four Mercy Street sites to explore in Alexandria.
More Mercy Street Inspired Experiences in Alexandria.
The Site of the Mansion House Hospital
Mansion House Hospital during Civil War
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Mansion House Hospital today
Remaining portion of the building at 133 N. Fairfax St.
Mercy Street takes place at James Green’s Mansion House Hotel, a luxury hotel seized as a hospital for Union troops. A portion of the Mansion House Hospital still stands at the corner of N. Fairfax and Cameron streets (133 N. Fairfax Street) as the only remaining Mansion House building used as a hospital by the US Army. Also known as the historic Bank of Alexandria building, it is now leased to a private business. Mercy Street characters and nurses Mary Phinney and Anne Hastings are based on real women who were at Mansion House Hospital – Mary Phinney and Anne Reading. The hotel and hospital was once a larger building, stretching across the front lawn of the Carlyle House, blocking the home from street view. The Carlyle House, owned by the Green family, was housing for the doctors, surgeons and VIP guests and patients. Today, the Carlyle House is open for tours and features an exhibit on the Mansion House Hospital.
Carlyle House - The Green Family Home
Mansion House Hotel owner James Green resided at Carlyle House (121 N. Fairfax Street) along with his wife Jane, daughters Emma and Alice, and son Jimmy (all characters on the PBS show), as well as six more children not depicted on Mercy Street. Today, Carlyle House still stands on the grounds of the former hospital, operating as a museum. Visitors can see an exhibit of Civil War artifacts from Mansion House hospital, including Frank Stringfellow’s spy supplies and Civil War era medical instruments, and they can explore older stories of Alexandria’s history. The exhibit, "Who These Wounded Are: The Extraordinary Stories of the Mansion House Hospital" features an interpretation of period hospital rooms and doctor/officer housing, plus stories of nurse Mary Phinney.
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
Founded in 1792 and operational at its current site from 1805 until 1933, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary (105 S. Fairfax Street) remained operational when Alexandria was occupied during the Civil War. The Green Family and Union hospital staff shopped here to purchase everything from Laudanum to Cologne. Prescriptions were also filled for the African American contraband population and civilian residents in Alexandria during the Civil War. Today, visitors can take a guided tour and experience the historic space where occupied Alexandria came to shop. In 2017, view a new exhibit “This Terrible Disease” opening on January 13 and explore the themes of Mercy Street with the “Apothecary of Mercy Specialty Tour” at 12:15 p.m. on the 2nd Sunday of January, February, March and April 2017.
Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial
Viewers of Mercy Street get to know the incredible story of “contraband” African Americans who fled to Union-occupied Alexandria to escape from bondage. A visit to the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial (1001 S. Washington Street) is a must-do to view the powerful interpretive panels and memorial artwork. Between 1864 and 1869, the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery served as the burial place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Alexandria, 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 resonates 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.