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Hornibrook House
aka: Empress of Little Rock

The Hornibrook House, constructed in 1888, is one of the finest examples of ornate Victorian architecture in the state. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 30, 1974.

In 1867, James H. Hornibrook and his wife, Margaret McCulley Hornibrook, moved from Toronto, Canada, to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Upon his arrival in Little Rock, Hornibrook entered a partnership with Miles Q. Townsend in a liquor sales and saloon business that flourished for twenty-two years. After Hornibrook’s financial success, he wished to build a home for his family that was worthy of his accomplishments.

The lavish home took approximately seven years to construct. It was completed in 1888 at a reported cost of $20,000. Designed by architects Max Orlopp and Casper Kusener, the home remains Arkansas’s best example of Queen Anne–style, Victorian-era architecture. One newspaper reported that all the work on the home was “to be done by Arkansans and out of Arkansas materials.” Some of the home’s most notable features include parquet floors, a wraparound porch, small-paned windows, and an interior stained-glass skylight. The home has an irregular floor plan, and the main part of the 7,200-square-foot building stands at two and a half stories, with a three-and-a-half-story tower.

The Hornibrook family did not get to enjoy the mansion for long. In 1890, two years after his home’s completion, James H. Hornibrook died at age forty-nine from an “apoplectic stroke.” Hornibrook had hosted a “gentleman’s” evening at his saloon that same evening before making it back to his residence and dying at the front gate.

Margaret Hornibrook remained in the home until her death in 1893. After her death, the home housed many different people and organizations, including the Arkansas Women’s College starting in 1897. Asbury Fowler, an insurance agent and federal marshal, purchased it at the turn of the century. In the early 1940s, the Hornibrook home served as a rooming house for women. In the late 1940s, Claire Freeman converted it into a nursing home.

In 1993, Sharon Welch-Blair and Robert Blair acquired the Hornibrook Home. After extensive preservation and restoration efforts—which consisted of the removal of several added features including walls, bathrooms, and an elevator—the house was returned to the original floor plan. Once the renovations were completed, the Blair family opened the Empress of Little Rock bed and breakfast in the home.

For additional information:
The Empress of Little Rock. (accessed December 12, 2016).

“Hornibrook House.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at (accessed December 12, 2016).

Alex Nichols
Marion, Arkansas

Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 2/27/2019

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