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The Story of The Hornibrook Mansion

Welcome to The Empress of Little Rock Bed and Breakfast, and the peace and magnificence of the 1880’s, where Little Rock, Arkansas history lives. The Empress was born out of a passion for the Victorian Era; a love for order, personal integrity, enthusiastic optimism, cherished family traditions and memories of how life used to be. The Empress is our home, and therefore we hope any stay will feel as if you were visiting a Victorian family in the 1880’s (but with the finest modern conveniences). And since it is our home, we’ve labored to treat each room as an extension of us with mementos and antiques that make you feel like you’re not only experiencing the past, but a cherished guest of the “royal family”. We take great pride in our attention to detail and our home’s standing on the National Register of Historic Places and other awards. Thank you for visiting our website, and taking the time to explore the history of our Little Rock, AR Inn. We hope our story will inspire you and that you will come and join us for a sample of “The Forgotten Experience.”

The Hornibrook Mansion was completed in 1888 at the exorbitant cost of $20,000 and used exclusively Arkansas materials. Designed by Max Orlopp and Kasper 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…