in little rock: tea and history at the empress b&bJune 27th, 2011
today was about tea at the empress of little rock bed & breakfast– but it was alcohol that originally built this magnificent structure.
in the 1880s, james hornibrook, a canadian carpetbagger, made little rock his home. after setting up a saloon (something that locals weren’t allowed to do post-civil war), hornibrook was shunned. his response to little rock’s upper echelon was to amass a fortune, build the most ostentatious house imaginable, and to establish a 24-hour poker game on the third floor of the mansion. now, that is revenge.
the ornate victorian house was completed in 1888 after six years of construction and a cost that was five or six times more than the average. hornibrook died in 1890, leaving behind what is deemed the finest example of gothic queen anne style architecture in arkansas and surrounding states. his wife died just three years later, of a broken heart, it’s been said.
over time, the house has served as a women’s college, a rooming house during world war II, a nursing home, and again as a private residence. in 1993, current owners sharon welch-blair and robert blair purchased the house and began a massive restoration that has earned numerous awards, including one of the best inns in the south, and fourth most romantic in the u.s. the bed and breakfast is on the national register of historic places and is a charming reminder of bye-gone days.
today, we toured the two main floors, then climbed the narrow stairway to the attic where hornibrook hosted his high-stakes poker games, while lookouts for authorities were based on the roof above. we don’t think the men were drinking tea up there, and even now, hospitality at the empress extends to brandy in cut-glass decanters for the bed and breakfast guests.
it’s in the dining room that you’ll find beautiful tea accoutrements (and tea). this is where overnight guests are offered tea at breakfast. it’s also where afternoon tea on sundays is served, an affair that consists of tea sandwiches and sweets and an amazing pomegranate tea that is steeped with fresh oranges, cinnamon and cloves and served in teacups that change with the season (red and white china today to match the fourth of july theme).
the sunday tea (by reservation) includes a tour of the house and swelled to 40 guests for mother’s day this year. besides sunday tea and special events such as showers and receptions and even an upcoming 90th birthday celebration for 20 people, the empress of little rock offers daily tea with 24-hour advance reservation.
after a tour of three floors of the inn today, we relaxed with the wonderful pomegranate tea, a chocolate-dipped cherry, cranberry scone, clotted cream and fabulous lemon curd, making an afternoon in little rock memorable. wish we could be here for the july 4th brunch!
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