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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Tour Guide Linda Howell presents “Haunted Little Rock”

October 10th, 2012 by Lisa

The Haunted America division of The History Press has recently released “Haunted Little Rock”, a book by Little Rock’s own Linda L. Howell.  The book provides pictures, stories and eyewitness accounts of reported “hauntings” in Little Rock.  Included in the book are tales of such landmarks as Mount Holly Cemetery, Robinson Center Music Hall, Reed’s Bridge and of course, The Empress of Little Rock.

Both history and eyewitness “sightings” are detailed in the book to give readers a fun and educational read.  Did you know that Curran Hall once had a “guardian” cat named Scout whose supposed job it was to protect the premises?  Have you heard the ghost exercising in the employee workout room in Little Rock City Hall?  Several employees say that they have.    Have you seen the grave of the Indian Woman “Elizabeth” in Mount Holly Cemetery?  If so, did you know that her body isn’t really there?  The marker was moved there by request of Albert Pike, but her body is still buried somewhere on the North Little Rock side of the river.

These stories and more will entertain and enlighten you as your read more about The Empress of Little Rock and other purportedly haunted spots in Little Rock in Linda’s book, available for purchase in The Empress gift shop.  We love the beautiful picture of The Empress on the cover!  You can also join Linda for Haunted Tours of Little Rock, every Friday night in October!!!  During the tour, Linda takes you to several of the Haunted spots in her book, starting at MacArthur Museum and entering The Empress for a view of our tower card room.  It is a frighteningly fun night for all!

Haunted History Makes for Eerily Awesome Tour!

September 25th, 2012 by Lisa

According to its website, “It is the objective of Haunted Tours of Little Rock to show you places located in the city’s Historic District, The Quapaw Quarter, where our prominent citizens once lived…….and some still do.” The Empress is proud to be a part of the tour, which takes you into the Hornibrook Mansion and up to the “haunted card room”, where you might be lucky enough to play a hand with Mr. Hornibrook.  The tour also takes it’s guests to such spookily familiar places as The Arsenal at MacArthur Park, Curran Hall, The Hanger House and Mt. Holly Cemetery.

The tour will run at 7pm on Friday nights through September and October.  If you can’t make the ghost tour, join The Empress for our regularly scheduled tour, offered every day at 11:30 and 3:00.  The cost is $7.50 and includes a tour of all three floors of The Empress of Little Rock  and an overview of its history.

So You Want More French Connection…

September 19th, 2012 by Lisa

Have you seen our Petit Jean room?  This beautiful room is decorated in navy blue, gold, white and a nautical theme is present throughout.  The room is named after Arkansas’ State Park- Mount Petit Jean, and it’s namesake.  Check out the romantic maritime accessories in one of our guests favorite rooms!

Do you know the legend of Petit Jean that inspires this Arkansas/French connection?  According to legend, Petit Jean was actually a young 18th century French woman. When she discovered that her fiance had been ordered to Captain one of three ships dispatched  to explore the newly acquired French possesion in the new world we now recognize as the Louisiana Territory, she cut her hair, disguised herself,  and secured a position as the cabin boy.  She survived the voyage.  Their two year expedition up the Mississippi and the Arkansas Rivers began their exploration.  They reached the lone escarpment jutting out over the Arkansas River just as winter approached.  Finding friendly indians who had never seen a white man, they chose to winter there.  Near the end of a brutal winter, the young woman fell ill with fever.  On her deathbed, she revealed herself to her fiance as his beloved.  She is buried on the mountain overlooking the scenic Arkansas River Valley to the East, not under her own name, but under the name she had been known by on the ship, “Petit Jean”– little John.  Below is a picture of “Petit Jean’s” grave……a cairn found atop Petit Jean Mountain.  In the early evening breeze, some say they can hear “Petit Jean” calling to her lover.  It bespeaks the strength and courage required to leave home and family to follow her destiny and garnered her a revered spot in the “legend” of our guestrooms, one of the favorites.

La Partie Deux de la Connexion Française

September 12th, 2012 by Lisa

That says the French Connection Part Two~and that is exactly what this is!  Last week we showed you our amazing Parisian fountain/statue and its equally impressive Parisian cousin.  This week our focus in the French Connection is Hemingway!   Did you know Ernest Hemingway’s second wife was from Arkansas? The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott, Arkansas, includes a barn-studio associated with Ernest Hemingway and the family home of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.  Pauline’s parents, Paul and Mary Pfeiffer, were prominent citizens of Northeast Arkansas and owned more than 60,000 acres of land.  During the 1930s, the barn was converted to a studio to give Hemingway privacy for writing while visiting Piggott.  Portions of one of his most famous novels, A Farewell to Arms, and several short stories were written in this studio.  As an ode to this famous Pseudo-Arkansan, we have created our popular “Hemingway Spa Suite” which is decorated in a masculine yet stylish way as befits Hemingway……and all of our guests searching for daring, decadence, and romance!

Jacuzzi Tub in The Hemingway Spa Suite

The Luxurious Hemingway Spa Suite

So what is the French Connection?  Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley,  arrived in Paris on December 22, 1921 and a few weeks later moved into their first apartment at 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine. It was a miserable apartment with no running water and a bathroom that was basically a closet with a slop jar inside. Here is a picture that Sharon took of the building while she was in Paris…

Heminway’s Parisian Abode.



Coffee and Tea Break

August 17th, 2012 by Lisa

For most of the United States, the morning or afternoon break is not often referred to as tea as the beverage has not traditionally been a widespread choice with Americans. The term coffee break is used instead to denote a morning or afternoon break from work, or social gathering for a snack and short downtime, where hot and cold beverages and cakes, breads, and pastries are sometimes consumed.

The term “high tea” is also used in the United States to refer to afternoon tea or the “tea party,” a very formal, ritualised gathering in which tea, thin sandwiches and little cakes are served on the best china. This usage is an analogical construction, the term “high” being associated with social formality (rather than a “high,” or main, table).

This afternoon tea is increasingly served in high-end American hotels, and at a rising number of big-city teahouses, where it is sometimes described as “afternoon tea.” The term “tea party” is still occasionally used in the U.S., either for a special occasion or in honor of a visiting celebrity or guest.

Read more:

Architectural Significance of The Empress noted

April 16th, 2012 by Lisa

It is architectural week, and the folks over at thought that they would recognize several Inns of outstanding architecture, including The Empress.  The article raved, “If you’re looking for quintessential ornate Victorian architecture, check out The Empress of Little Rock Small Luxury Hotel and Conference Center located in Little Rock, AR. Designed by Max Orlopp and Casper Kusener, it was completed in 1888 and is listed on the National register of Historic Places. The mansion is considered one of the most important, existing examples of Gothic Queen Anne design in Arkansas with its divided stairway, stain glass skylight, octagonal shaped rooms and 3 ½ story corner tower.”

Check out the whole article here.

Tales from beyond the grave come alive at Mount Holly Cemetery

October 11th, 2011 by Lisa

Tales of the Crypt — visits to Mount Holly Cemetery gravesites with 15 actors from Parkview Arts Science Magnet High
School who, dressed in period costumes created by Debi Manire, recreate the
lives of notable Arkansans who have helped shape Little Rock history — will be
held from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 11) at 1200 Broadway, Little Rock.

Parkview students research each character and prepare original scripts for
their performances under the direction of theater arts specialist Fred Boosey
and drama specialist Tamara Zinck.

Admission is free. Donations to Mount Holly Cemetery are appreciated and will
aid in the maintenance of the cemetery.

The Complete History of The Empress

December 6th, 2010 by Sharon Welch-Blair

The Hornibrook Mansion was completed in 1888 after approximately six years of construction. The architects, Kasper Kusner, & Max Orlopp, were reportedly family friends and also designed the spires and towers of the Pulaski County Court-house. It encompasses approximately 7200 sq. feet on the two main floors and had a wine cellar, laundry, food storage, and boiler room in the basement (according to the Arkansas Gazette). It originally cost $20,000 at a time when a normal dwelling would have run $2500-3500. The attic contained the infamous secret “tower room, “Mr. Hornibrook’s revenge on local society. Using all Arkansas materials, each main room of the downstairs had its own granite foundation. Five or six native woods were used in the ornate wainscot and parquet floors, including: oak, cherry, walnut, mahogany, cypress, and yellow pine. The house exhibits gothic and Queen Anne influences and an irregular floor plan of different shapes, i.e., octagonal, circle, & squares, and multiple building materials: rock, brick, stucco, wood, granite, limestone, quartz, crystal, etc. The vertical dimensions and round tower denote gothic influence. The two hundred feet of surrounding verandah, and variety of color in the window glass also denote Queen Anne influence. The house had steam heat, included six working fireplaces, and was piped with gas, as well as electric (the latest innovation, however unreliable.) Mr. Hornibrook, as Vice President of Edison Electric, reportedly added the very finest convenience, including an intercom system and three “indoor” water closets complete with tubs and running, hot water. An 8 ft. Sq. stained glass skylight added elegance and interest to the upstairs. The glass tower above stretches to the roof and is beautiful in it’s own right, even though it is obscured from view in the interior. Hornibrook and his family were not to enjoy his creation for long. At age 49, in 1890, Mr. Hornibrook succumbed to an “apoplectic” stroke at the front gate. Three years later Margaret died, leaving the estate to the children. Lessie Peay, their daughter, moved in with her husband to care for the younger Hornibrook children. In 1897, they leased it to the Arkansas Women’s College, the first in the state. Around the turn of the century, it was sold to Asbury S. Fowler an insurance agent and former federal marshal. It remained a private residence until after his death in 1922. Mrs. Fowler remained in the house until the depression forced her to move to smaller quarters. It was unoccupied until the 1940’s when it was used as a rooming house for women during W.W.II. Former residents tell of working in the munitions factory in Jacksonville and being courted by their “beaus” on the large verandah at night. In 1947, Claire Freeman who turned it into a nursing home purchased it. In the 1970’s, it was again sold as a private residence and eventually turned into a number of apartments and halfway house. In December of 1993, Sharon Welch-Blair and Robert Blair purchased it… and the Dream began.

In 1867, James H. Hornibrook & Margaret McCulley left family and friends in Canada and moved south to Little Rock, where, along with many other Northerners, they may have been perceived as “carpetbaggers”. During the occupation of the civil war, locals were not allowed to own weapons or enter certain business areas, saloons being one of them. With experience and backing from his merchant family in Toronto, Hornibrook soon became one of the wealthiest men in Arkansas. However, like Rhett Butler, he and his family were resented and not accepted by “polite Southern society” in post civil war Little Rock. His competitor, Angelo Marré, however, was awarded access to the fashionable “Scott Street” and there, completed a fine home, the Villa Marré’. Undaunted, Hornibrook, spurred by love for his wife, preceded to build the most expensive and ostentatious dwelling in the entire state. And to further flaunt society, legend has it he carried on a continuous poker game in the tower, where he paid young boys to be lookouts for the authorities. His poker game can be viewed in the tower as if he never left, and on occasional visits, his ghost reminds us he still has a “hand in the game.”

Bob and Sharon met and married in 1966, in the town they both called home, Jonesboro, Arkansas. Bob, finished college and landed the perfect “apprentice” position with Southwestern Bell and began climbing the corporate ladder. Sharon, after finding clerical work tedious, retired to raise a family and be the conventional Southern homemaker. Bob quickly ascended the rungs to become upper level management, moving every couple of years. With all this free time (after cleaning house, cooking meals, and taking care of two pre-school children, Stephen & Wendy), Sharon began to explore a lot of varied interests; cooking, gardening, decorating, tennis, decorative painting, sewing, selling Avon, and in the course of all this, discovered she absolutely loved history and old houses. Genealogy became a pass time. And then, in 1978, Bob got transferred to Basking Ridge, N.J. It cost a lot more to live in a new home in New Jersey. In the course of house hunting, Bob found the perfect house he knew Sharon would love (and they could afford), an 1890’s Victorian parsonage. And she did. The next eight years saw the children grow up; The Little Blue Toll House (decorative painting studio) became not only a hobby, but also a career for Sharon. But the heart of it revolved around a love for everything Victorian. This was a tough pill to swallow for a Math major that loved clean lines and Danish Modern. After eight years, Southwestern Bell beckoned Bob back to Arkansas to a position in depreciation and taxes. He pursued his dream to receive an MBA. And the move brought an end to Sharon’s painting business, but not her love of old homes. After much fuming and consternation, Sharon agreed to live in West Little Rock, but Bob agreed to build the most wonderful “old” Victorian house he could afford. It may still be seen at 13804 St. Charles- a Victorian in the heart of traditional West Little Rock. And a new career, in financial services for New York Life, kept Sharon very busy for the next eight years—-but the passion had only been buried, not died.

In August 1991, a friend from the Quapaw Quarter Historic District, drove Bob & Sharon by the Hornibrook Mansion. Sharon knew immediately it was the perfect house for a Bed & Breakfast. But the restoration looked like it would be completely out of reach. The whole idea was filed under “impossible, impractical, and unrealistic”. In June of 1993, a friend again called excitedly and said, “We’ve got to tour this house- it’s on the market!” Six months later, in December 1993, after months of negotiation, the Hornibrook Mansion belonged to Bob and Sharon. The first of several miracles was complete. Bob was totally engrossed in the prospect of renovating this “jewel” hidden under years of wall rearrangements, elevator additions, decorating modernization’s and substandard wiring and plumbing. Phase one consisted of demolishing all the extra walls, removing bathrooms, eliminating at least a two ton, two story elevator added in the 1940’s, a kitchen added on the 2nd floor and several apartments downstairs. It was amazing what they found as they pulled out sheet rock and got down to the original lath in some instances; doors and windows, long since forgotten; all the original hardware, still intact; virgin wood with no knots, and beautiful parquet floors under all the carpets. All but one mantel were original to the house, including the delicate hand painted tiles in the Master bedroom with the verse from Milton’s L’Allegro, lovingly created by Mary Leicaster Hornibrook Wagner, for her brother. At this point, in January 1994, the ghost first made its appearance, to Bob. As he stood in the midst of a dark dreary kitchen, ready to be demolished, an apparition of a handsomely dressed man in a dapper Hamburq hat descended the stairwell. His glance seemed to plead “Save this mansion”. A few months later, a cold rush of wind in the still closed up house brushed Bob as he stood in the foyer, again, as if to say, “Care about this house.”

In May 1994, with demolition complete, estimates were ready and restoration began. Working closely with the Arkansas Department of Historic Preservation and the Quapaw Quarter Historic District, the drawings were approved to bring the house back to the original floor plan, creating five bedrooms and a master suite, where originally there had been 3 large bedroom parlor suites, 3 bathrooms and 2 small bedrooms. The kitchen was restored to its original location, as well as the butler’s pantry. The back stairs, and cloak hall were reestablished and a 1/2 bath was added. Sidewalks were re-laid, granite anchored, fence leveled, trees removed, foundation tuck pointed, obsolete concrete structures from the 40’s removed from the back, and the rotted 200 ft. porch replaced with tongue and groove cypress, along with new balusters and railings. The triple corbelled chimneys were restored to original height and the 108 yr. old slate roof returned to a good state of repair.

In July it became evident that the original estimates for restoration were naive. As the financial commitment dawned on them, the bank added their own piece of financial realization by lowering their original commitment to 60% of the amount needed to complete the project. By October, despair turned to depression as all avenues were exhausted in the search for a bank willing to take the gamble they had already made. Christmas loomed bare and bleak. Then a Spunky lady with a major bank appeared, believed in what they were doing and proceeded, against all odds, to make it happen. This 2nd miracle occurred on December 28th, 1994. The passion was again rekindled and kept alive. This loan wouldn’t get the project finished, but it would get in them a permanent mortgage and moved into the house. Christmas Eve after eight months on the market, they started negotiating for the sale of their residence in West Little Rock.

They closed on their house in West Little Rock and moved into Hornibrook on March 13th, 1995. After five days of moving, life began to settle down, with amenities limited to one sink, two commodes, one shower, and awaking @ 7:00 a.m. each morning to painters and carpenters continuing to plod along. Living in dust and construction became a way of life, as did living by faith, one day at a time. The wolf had been kept from the door, but The Empress could still not be finished. They needed another major loan, and the appraisal wouldn’t support it. It looked as if there was no hope, when, again, a spunky young lady from another major bank entered the picture. Her enthusiasm and belief in the dream allowed miracle # 3, the completion of an SBA loan that would open the doors of The Empress, one day at a time, in His time, to which The Empress is dedicated. Miracle # 4 is you, our customers. We were told people wouldn’t spend much money to stay in a bed and breakfast in downtown Little Rock. Certainly, no one else was getting it. The calls from January to July, before we opened, brightened our Spirits and renewed our confidence. And we are dedicated to providing you with a special experience that we hope will not only leave you refreshed and focused but will bring you back again and again, to “the forgotten experience”.

About The Empress

November 1st, 2010 by Sharon Welch-Blair

The Hornibrook Mansion was completed in 1888 at the exorbitant cost of $20,000 and used exclusively Arkansas materials. Designed by Max Orlopp and Casper Kusener, it has been described in the National register of Historic Places as the best example of ornate Victorian Architecture in Arkansas and the most important existing example of Gothic Queen Anne style regionally. Its significance lies in the unique architectural features (divided stairway, 3 1/2 story corner tower, stained glass skylight, and octagonal shaped rooms), which create a massive structure representing late-nineteenth century architecture in its most flamboyant style.

Following the Civil War, James H. Hornibrook moved from Toronto and established a profitable business as a saloonkeeper. Shunned from the proper Scott Street society because of his occupation, Hornibrook waited until Angelo Marré (his competitor saloonkeeper) completed his home, the Villa Marré, and proceeded to build the most extravagant dwelling in the state. Legend has it that he kept a card game going in the tower room where he could watch for raids on his establishment. Unfortunately, he died of an “apoplectic stroke” at the front gate, shortly after the mansion was finished. He was only 49 years of age. Anticipating his death, he had a death mask of Italian marble designed while on a trip to Italy and is buried in the historic Mt. Holly cemetery, in the family plot. Margaret McCully Hornibrook died two years later at age 49, purportedly of a broken heart.

In 1897, the Hornibrook Mansion became the Arkansas Women’s College, the state’s first. Between the Depression and the early 1940’s the house stood vacant and became a nursing home in 1948. It was a private residence and apartments until 1994 when it was restored to become The Empress.