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Homes Provide Tours of Victorian Era

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Miss Laura's Ft. Smith
Miss Laura's Ft. Smith
    Peel House Museum and Historical Garden, Bentonville
Peel House Museum and Historical Garden, Bentonville
Queen Ann Mansion, Eureka Springs
Queen Ann Mansion, Eureka Springs
    Rosalie Tour Home, Eureka Springs
Rosalie Tour Home, Eureka Springs
Ace of Clubs, Texarkana
Ace of Clubs, Texarkana
January 29, 2002

Homes Provide Tours of Victorian Era
By Kerry Kraus, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Everyone has seen them. Those huge old historic homes that reflect the genteel days of the Victorian era and invite imaginations of what lies behind stately doors. While imagination is great, it's not always required. Many of these stunning structures in Arkansas are open to the public and provide glimpses into the past.

Below are some of the Victorian-era tour homes that welcome visitors. Hours of operation are subject to change without notice and contacting a tour home before making a trip is advised.

The Queen Anne Mansion in Eureka Springs is a classic Victorian built in Carthage, Missouri in 1891. In the late 20th Century, this masterpiece was dismantled, moved to Eureka Springs and reconstructed. The oak and cherry woodwork includes seven fireplace mantels and five pocket doors hand carved by Italian and German artisans. It is considered one of the most elegant places in Arkansas for weddings and receptions and is furnished with $400,000 of antique furnishings.

Also in America's Victorian Village is the Rosalie Tour Home and Gardens, built in the 1880s and located in the heart of Eureka's historic district. It is a combination of Eastlake and Carpenters Gothic design and has been appointed as it would have been in the 1890s. Guided tours depict life in the Gilded Age.

In Bentonville, the Peel House Museum and Historical Garden is an exceptional example of Villa Tower Italianate architecture. Built in 1875 by Colonel Samuel West Peel, the home featured the best construction materials available -- from the Southern yellow pine floors to the locally produced exterior bricks later embellished with a stucco finish. The outer stone sills and lintels were hand-carved by a local stone mason.

The front hall showcases rare pine graining and a gracefully turned walnut balustrade stairway. There is a rare Anglo-Japanese mantle in the library and unusual Greek Revival molded trim in the parlor. Fine antiques and artifacts on loan from the Old State House and the Historic Arkansas Museum furnish the interior.

The state's frontier city, Fort Smith, has several exquisite examples of Victorian wonders. The Bonneville House, an elaborate Victorian Renaissance home built around 1870, now serves as a popular site for receptions and dinners. It was bought in 1878 by Mrs. Susan Bonneville, widow of General Benjamin Bonneville, the one-time commander at the Fort Smith Post. Although he never lived here, his wife stayed in the house until her death many years later. The house was fully restored in 1962.

The Clayton House is a classic Victorian Renaissance Baroque mansion built in the 1850s located in Fort Smith's Belle Grove Historic District. A large expansion took place in 1882 when it was purchased by William Henry Clayton, who served as district attorney under Judge Isaac C. Parker. The fully restored home features some of the original Clayton family furniture and has a double entrance door and hand-carved staircases.

One of Fort Smith's more colorful structures, literally and figuratively, is Miss Laura's. Now the town's visitor center, Miss Laura's was a bordello in its earlier days. The striking apple green and cream Baroque Victorian structure dominates the banks of the Arkansas River. Originally built as the elaborate Riverfront Hotel just before the turn of the 20th century, it soon became known as "Miss Laura's," Fort Smith's premier bawdy house. Furnished much as it was during its heyday, Miss Laura's is now completely restored and is the only former house of prostitution listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Groups should call in advance so Miss Laura herself can give them a guided tour. The center also serves as a trolley stop for tours of the historic district.

Helena, a historic city situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, is an archetypal river port town. Numerous restored Victorian and antebellum homes are found throughout town. One of the most impressive is the Pillow-Thompson Victorian House. Built in 1896 by Jerome B. Pillow, the fully restored house is one of the finest examples of Queen Anne architecture in the South. Authentically furnished for the period, the house is open to the public for tours and also serves as a training lab for hospitality students at Phillips Community College. Lunch is available to the public on Tuesday and special arrangements can be made for groups for any meal with advance notice.

One of Little Rock's stunning properties is the Empress of Little Rock Bed and Breakfast, which began its life as the Hornibrook House. The mansion was completed in 1888 at the then-outrageous cost of $20,000 and used Arkansas materials exclusively in its construction. The house 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 such as the divided stairway, the three and one-half story corner tower, the stained glass skylight and octagonal shaped rooms, which create a massive structure representing late-nineteenth century architecture in its most flamboyant style. Historical tours for groups and bus tours are available by reservation.

Perhaps the most one-of-a-kind house in the country is found in Texarkana. The Ace of Clubs House, also known as the Draughon-Moore home, has one of the most unusual histories in the area. According to local legend, the Ace of Clubs House was built with winnings from a poker game won with the draw of the ace of clubs. Fittingly, lumberman and Confederate veteran Captain James Draughon built the home in 1885 in the shape of a club. In 1894, Henry Moore, a Texarkana attorney, bought the house.

This unique Italianate-Victorian style structure features three octagonal and one long rectangular rooms, which are arranged around a central octagon serving as the rotunda of the home. Now a part of the Texarkana Museum Systems, the d├ęcor of the home depicts the period between 1880 and 1940. Each room reflects a decade during those years that shaped modern America.

Also in Texarkana, the Augustus Garrison Historical Home or the Garrison-McLain Home, as it is commonly known, was built in 1895 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The decorative structure is of late Victorian, Queen Anne style design with gingerbread trim.

In Pine Bluff is a historic home that once housed a historical figure. The Martha Mitchell is the birthplace and residence of Martha Mitchell, the outspoken wife of the former U.S. Attorney General who served under President Richard Nixon. Because of the impact of Martha's visits with the media, many historians regard her as central to Nixon's downfall. The elaborate Victorian structure was built around 1887 by Martha's maternal grandparents, and it is where she was born in 1918. The fully restored Victorian home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A Quick Tour of the Homes

Queen Anne Mansion, Eureka Springs. 115 West Van Buren. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. year-round. Phone (501) 253-8825 or toll-free 1-800-MANSION.

Rosalie Tour Home and Gardens, Eureka Springs. 282 Spring Street. Call (501) 253-7377 or toll-free 1-888-374-7377. E-mail:

Peel House Museum, Bentonville. 400 South Walton Blvd. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 adults, $1 ages 6-12. Call (501) 273-9664 for more information or visit

Bonneville House, Fort Smith. 318 North Seventh Street. Call (501) 782-7854 for hours of operation. Groups of 10 or more must make appointments.

Clayton House, Fort Smith. 514 North Sixth Street. Open Wednesday-Friday, noon to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m., respectively. Admission: $2 adults, $1 ages 12-18, free for those under 12. Phone (501) 783-3000.

Miss Laura's, Fort Smith. 2 North B Street. Phone (501) 783-8888, toll-free 1-800-637-1477. E-mail

Pillow-Thompson Victorian House, Helena. Corner of Perry and Beech Streets. Open Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. Group tours available. Call (870) 338-8535 for more information or e-mail

The Empress, Little Rock. 2120 Louisiana, Quapaw Quarter Historic District. Open year-round Monday- Thursday from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. for drop-in tours. Cost is $5 per person; $7.50 per person from December 1-January 12. Call (501) 374-7966 or toll-free 1-877-374-7966 for additional information or reservations.

Ace of Clubs House, Texarkana. 420 Pine. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; last tour begins at 3 p.m. Groups should call at least two weeks in advance to schedule tours. Call (903) 793-4831 for more information or visit

Garrison McLain Home, Texarkana. 600 Pecan. Available for tours and special events such as receptions, meetings, weddings and showers. For information, call (870) 772-0449 or (870) 772-2801.

Martha Mitchell Home, Pine Bluff. 902 West 4th Street. Open by appointment only. Call (870) 536-7600. For more information visit


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
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