Things to Do

Check Out These Mercy Street History Attractions in Alexandria

Photograph by Antony Platt/PBS.

As PBS’s British-aristocracy soap Downton Abbey winds down (seven episodes left!), it will start being followed Sunday by Mercy Street, a miniseries set in an Alexandria hospital during the Civil War.

The show, which PBS hopes will mimic Downton‘s popularity, features two nurses in the Union-controlled hospital, one an abolitionist (Mary Phinney, Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and the other a Confederate (Emma Green, Hannah James).

While Mercy Street was shot predominantly in Richmond and Petersburg, its story can be traced through real locations in Alexandria, which was under Union occupation for the duration of the war. And the city is attempting to capitalize on its history with a slew of new visitor attractions and exhibits set to debut in conjunction with Mercy Street’s pilot episode. Here are some of the sites, tours, and museums worth checking out.

Carlyle House Historic Park

During the Civil War, the Mansion House—once a luxury hotel owned by the Green family—and its neighboring Carlyle House were taken over by the Union and turned into an infirmary for injured Union soldiers. “Who These Wounded Are: The Extraordinary Stories of the Mansion House Hospital” at the Carlyle House tells the detailed history of its site and inhabitants, the likes of which became the source material for Mercy Street. From January 19 to July 11.

Mercy in Alexandria Walking Tour 

This walking tour, led by a trained military historian, is inspired directly by Mercy Street. Attendees will get to visit important show locations, see where certain characters dwelled, and get a sense for what life was like in Civil War-era Alexandria. Public tours by appointment or every Sunday at 1:30 p.m., beginning January 17.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary

The Green family was known to shop at this apothecary, which remained open even while Alexandria was occupied by Union troops. Today, visitors can enter the space, take a guided tour, and even see what items the Greens like to purchase. From January to May. 

Alexandria Black History Museum

Although Alexandria was Union-operated, conditions for the massive influx of escaped slaves were not favorable, given the population’s Confederate sympathies. “The Journey to Be Free: Self-emancipation and Alexandria’s Contraband Heritage” highlights the struggles of these freedmen to fit into the Alexandria community—an important subtext for Mercy StreetExhibit extended through March.

The Lyceum 

Before it was a local history museum, the Lyceum existed as a hospital similar to Mercy Street’s Mansion House. It’s currently showing an exhibition on the life of Clarissa Jones—a nurse there during the Civil War—as well as the work of other nurses practicing around the same time, such as Mansion House worker Anne Reading. Opens January 15.