Discover the Real Green Family From PBS’ Mercy Street in Alexandria, VA

Fans of PBS’ Mercy Street, based on real events of Civil War Alexandria, Virginia, can explore the real history behind the show by visiting Alexandria, located just outside of Washington, D.C. The city is presenting 50 Mercy Street-inspired tours, exhibits and events.

Throughout season 2 of PBS’ Mercy Street, much of the drama unfolds on Green family properties, including their home, known as “the Mansion House,” their hotel, which was expropriated by Federal troops for use as a hospital during the Civil War, and their furniture factory. These sites and stories portrayed on Mercy Street were inspired by the real Green family of Alexandria, who lived at Carlyle House and really operated a hotel and furniture factory in the city. In this post, we’ll explore more about the real Green family and their properties that inspired the series, including opportunities to explore these real sites in Alexandria, Virginia.

Carlyle House: The Real Mansion House From PBS’ Mercy Street

Carlyle House was built in 1749 for John Carlyle, one of the original founders of the city, and was purchased by James Green almost a century later. It was known locally as “The Mansion House” because of its size and grandiosity. James and Jane Green, the real couple who inspired their characters on Mercy Street, had nine children including James. Jr, Emma and Alice, all seen fictionalized on Mercy Street.

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Shortly after buying The Mansion House (Carlyle House), James Green transformed the Bank of Alexandria building next door into a luxurious hotel, The Mansion House Hotel. As is portrayed on Mercy Street, the hotel was expropriated by Federal troops in 1861, and became the largest military hospital in Alexandria during the Civil War, where nurses like the real Mary Phinney treated soldiers. As we see in Mercy Street, the action in the hospital wasn’t limited to medicine; there were also real spies who gathered intel in the hospital, though it isn’t believed the real Frank Stringfellow was one of them. Frank Stringfellow did visit the Green family home during the war to see his love, Emma Green, and to carry out spying missions in Alexandria.

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You can learn more about these people and their stories by visiting Carlyle House, which today stands as a museum that houses an exhibit and tours inspired by Mercy Street. During season 1 of Mercy Street, we wrote a detailed post about the history of Carlyle House as it relates to Mercy Street. Check it out here for a more in-depth look at the history that inspired the series.

The Real Green Family Furniture Factory

In season 2 of Mercy Street, more action centers around the Green family furniture factory. In real life, the Green family owned Green & Brothers Furniture Factory in Alexandria, which made cabinets and other furniture pieces. The business was taken over by James Green, Sr. from his father in 1823 and was very successful until it burned in “a disastrous fire, the most devastating in Alexandria’s history.” Later in 1834, James, Sr. relocated his factory to the corner of Prince and Fairfax Streets, where visitors today can see still the exterior of the former site.

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The Civil War meant the Green family business had shut down along with most other trade in Alexandria. During the war, James Green, Sr. and his son did support the Confederate cause, assisting families of Confederate soldiers through the Volunteer Relief Association. His son John even fought in the Confederate Army. Similar to his fictionalized storyline on Mercy Street, James, Sr. really was arrested during the Civil War. He was imprisoned nearby for being a Confederate sympathizer, along with his son Stephen and over two dozen others. In Mercy Street, James, Sr. is imprisoned for refusing to sign the loyalty oath, which the real James Green, Sr. did eventually sign. And although their furniture factory wasn’t operating during the war, legend has it Robert E. Lee signed the surrender papers at Appomattox on a Green & Brothers desk.

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Image Credit: C. Davidson for PBS/Visit Alexandria

The Green family furniture business reopened after the war and had a reputation throughout the South well through the end of the 19th century, with factories in Alexandria and elsewhere. Family members of Robert E. Lee and other prominent people purchased Green family furniture throughout the 19th century. Today, visitors can learn more about the Green family business through various tours, exhibits and events. Keep reading to learn more.

Visitor Experiences

Carlyle House:

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Who These Wounded Are: The Extraordinary Stories of the Mansion House Hospital
Continuing through 2017
Carlyle House Historic Park, 121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Come see the site that inspired MERCY STREET, the PBS series inspired by real events that took place at Carlyle House. The six-episode program revolves around the doctors, nurses, and patients of Mansion House Hospital, a former luxury hotel owned by James Green, a prominent Alexandria businessman who resided in Carlyle House. The exhibit features an interpretation of period hospital rooms and doctor/officer housing, plus stories of nurse Mary Phinney and spy Frank Stringfellow.


Espionage Tea at Carlyle House
June 4, 2017 from 2:30-4 p.m.
Carlyle House Historic Park, 121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314

Discover your inner spy at a special Espionage Tea. Are you as clever and talented as Frank Stringfellow, a real historical character featured on PBS’ Civil War drama, MERCY STREET, and real-life sweetheart of Emma Green who lived at Carlyle House? Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 703-549-2997. Advance reservations are required.


Green Family Furniture Factory:

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Image Credit: C. Davidson for PBS/Visit Alexandria

Former Site of Green & Brothers Furniture Factory
Corner of Prince and Fairfax Streets, Alexandria, VA 22314

Visit the former site of the Green & Brothers Furniture Factory, which once served as one of the most renowned furniture businesses in the South during the 19th century. In the foreground of the picture above, a rendition of the former Green & Brothers Furniture Factory can be seen in front of the site today, which still looks remarkably similar over a century later.


Lecture: James Green and Thomas Day: Furniture, Family, and Race in 19th Century Virginia
March 18, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.
Lee-Fendall House, 614 Oronoco St., Alexandria, VA 22314

Join Hal Stuart, author of “Virginia Sectional Furniture 1800-1860,” for a comparison of two of 19th century Virginia’s most successful furniture makers—James Green of Alexandria and African-American entrepreneur Thomas Day. James Green and his furniture factory are featured in the national PBS Civil War drama MERCY STREET. Tour space is limited, so the purchase of tickets in advance is highly recommended.

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Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Green & Brothers Furniture on Display at Alexandria Historic Sites
Throughout 2017
Lee-Fendall House, 614 Oronoco St., Alexandria, VA 22314
The Lyceum, 201 S. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314
The Friendship Firehouse Museum, 107 S Alfred St, Alexandria, VA 22314
Carlyle House Historic Park, 121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314

Several Alexandria sites, including the Lee-Fendall House, The Lyceum and The Friendship Firehouse Museum have pieces from the Green family furniture business. Lee-Fendall House has the largest collection anywhere, while Carlyle House has a foot stool of Emma’s and other Green-made furniture pieces.


Apothecary of Mercy Specialty Tour
2nd Sunday in January, February, March and April 2017 at 12:15 p.m.
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, 107 S. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314

Explore the themes of PBS’ MERCY STREET through the lens of this family-owned apothecary that stayed in business through Alexandria’s occupation during the Civil War, including more information on James Green and his relationship to the Apothecary. This 45-minute tour showcases special archival materials and period ingredients. Capacity is limited to 15 and advance registration is encouraged.



Discovering Mercy Walking Tour
Biweekly Sundays beginning January 29 to April 23, 2017 at 3 p.m.
Presented by Discover Alexandria
Tour begins at Alexandria Visitor Center, 221 King St., Alexandria, VA 22314

Learn about the real history behind PBS’ Civil War drama MERCY STREET during this 75-minute walking tour, including a stop at the site of the former Green & Brothers Furniture Factory. Visitors will discover facts about Civil War medicine and nursing, the real Green family of Alexandria portrayed on the show, and the historical context of the Union’s occupation of the city. The tour begins at the Alexandria Visitor Center and ends at Christ Church. Dogs are welcome. To request another tour date and time, email [email protected].


For more on Mercy Street-inspired events in Alexandria, click here.


Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria



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