Then and Now Photos

Several of the locations featured in Mercy Street are real places that still stand today in Alexandria, Virginia – where the program largely takes place. Take a glimpse what these buildings looked like during the Civil War era compared to their modern day evolution. Their true history helped to inspire the program, and you can visit these locations as well! 

Support and some copy courtesy of Visit Alexandria. Photo Credit: C Davidson for PBS/Visit Alexandria

Carlyle House

In 1848, James Green bought the Mansion House, also known as Carlyle House, where he and his family resided. During the Civil War, it was seized by the Union as housing for the doctors, surgeons and VIP guests and patients.

The building was originally built by John Carlyle, wealthy merchant and a founder of Alexandria, who completed this elegant stone mansion in 1753. It is architecturally unique, known as the only stone, Palladian-style house in Alexandria.

There are not many photos of Carlyle House during the Civil War, most likely because it was hidden by the Mansion House Hotel from street view. The photo in the foreground dates back to 1918, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Today, Carlyle House still stands on the grounds of the former hospital, operating as a museum. It is open for tours and features an exhibit on the Mansion House Hospital.

Green & Brother Furniture Factory

James Green's father William began making furniture in Alexandria as early as 1818. In 1824, James took over the business, and in 1834 purchased a three-story brick building on the corner of Prince and Fairfax Streets in Alexandria. A steam engine was installed there for sawing and turning wood, the first one in any furniture factory in town.

By 1857, the business was run by James’s sons John W. and Stephen A., and the company became Green & Brother.

The photo in the foreground is cropped from an advertisement of Green & Brother, courtesy of the Library of Virginia.

The building still stands today at 200 South Fairfax Street with a historical marker, and is now a private apartment building.

Source: Building Furniture, Building up the South (Website: Out of the Box: Notes from the Archives at the Library of Virginia

Mansion House Hotel

One of the premier luxury hotels in the region, the Mansion House Hotel was owned by James Green. He purchased an existing building in 1848 and, after he transformed it into a highly successful hotel, he expanded the building across his front lawn, blocking the home from street view. The hotel was seized as a hospital for Union troops during the Civil War.

The photo in the foreground was taken by Andrew J. Russell between 1861 and 1865, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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.

Contraband Hospital

This building in Alexandria, Virginia were used as a hospital and residence during the Civil War. The building was known as the Contraband Hospital, housing former enslaved people who made their way to freedom in Union-occupied Alexandria. It housed as many as 140 patients during a smallpox outbreak.

Mercy Street character Charlotte Jenkins is based on Harriet Jacobs, a relief worker and well-known author who lived here with aid worker Julia Wilbur. They lived in the south house from 1863-1865, and stored clothes and other supplies for Contrabands.

With the closing of the Contraband Hospital, the building had several uses, including a school for African Americans.

The photo in the foreground, believed to have been taken by Matthew Brady circa 1865, features a diverse group of different ages and races. Posing in the photo are Jacobs and Wilbur as well. It was believed to have been taken on a parade day in April in Alexandria.

The building still stands today at 321-323 S. Washington Street. It is now a multi-family residence with retail space on the ground floor, presently occupied by an antiques shop and pet store. The retail conversion and show windows came in the 1960s.

Sources: History of the Contraband Hospital and SchoolA House Divided Still Stands: The Contraband Hospital and Alexandria Freedmen’s Aid Workers, by Tim Dennee 

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