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Encyclopedia > James Hoban
James Hoban's drawing of the White House
James Hoban's drawing of the White House

James Hoban (c. 1758 - December 8, 1831) was an Irish architect, best known for designing the White House in Washington, D.C.. James Hobans White House design File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... James Hobans White House design File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... Year 1758 (MDCCLVIII) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Thursday of the 11-day slower Julian calendar). ... is the 342nd day of the year (343rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Leopold I 1831 (MDCCCXXXI) was a common year starting on Saturday (see link for calendar). ... For other uses, see Architect (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see White House (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Washington, D.C. (disambiguation). ...



James Hoban was born in 1758 near the town of Callan, Co. Kilkenny in the south-eastern area of Ireland. The original Hoban cottage at Desart, Cuffesgrange was in place until the 1940s. Hoban’s father was a tenant farmer and possibly an estate laborer at Desart Court, home of the Cuffe family, Barons Desart. The Cuffes were prominent in the social and cultural life of Kilkenny from the 18th. to the 20th. century (their involvements included the mayoralty of Kilkenny City, literary pursuits, interest in the theatre, the provision of Desart Hall etc.). Their mansion Desart Court was built in the 1730s. It was burned in the Irish Civil War period (1922), rebuilt, and then taken over by the Irish Government’s Land Commission in 1945, when the estate lands were redistributed and the house allowed to fall into disrepair. It was eventually demolished in the early 1950s though part of the stableyard and a seven-acre walled garden survive.

EARLY AND PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION Hoban was tutored with the Cuffes at the local estate school and also underwent early training as a carpenter/wheelwright in the estate workshops. He attended the Dublin Society’s Drawing School, where he won a medal awarded by the school’s patron, the Duke of Leinster, in 1780. From there he went on to assist the school’s principal, Thomas Ivory, in his private practice as drawing office assistant and apprentice architect. Buildings with which Hoban was familar or involved as draughtsman, designer or construction supervisor include the Newcomen & Co. bank building (designed by Ivory and now owned by the Dublin city authorities) and the Royal Exchange (designed by Cooley and now, as Dublin City Hall, restored to its original glory). He may also have acted as an assistant draughtsman for Gandon's Custom House project (1781) and operated in independent practice for a short time from 1782 onwards.

NEW BEGINNINGS IN AMERICA Hoban arrived in Philadelphia about 1785. There he must have been familiar with other Irish personalities in the newly-emerging republic, including the Irish-born signers of the Declaration of Independence (Smith, Thornton, Taylor) and other Irish-born notables such as Stephen Moylan, Washington's quartermaster; Commodore John Barry, founder of the American Navy; and Matthew Carey, publisher. There too were many Irish-connected delegates to Congress, particularly those who, like John Rutledge, Philip Lynch and Carlow-born Pierce Butler, came from the southern U.S. These latter contacts may have been the reason for Hoban’s move to Charleston, South Carolina, where he arrived about 1787. He set up a partnership with Pierce Purcell, another Irish draughtsman/builder, and operated a drawing school. Among the early pupils were a pre-teen Richard Mills, who later became Hoban’s apprentice, and later still became America's first acclaimed native-born architect.

THE HOBAN PORTFOLIO: We cannot properly document Hoban’s involvement in the design and construction of the principal Charleston-area buildings with which he is associated – the Historic Courthouse (renovated in 2000); Savages Green Theatre (on the site of Hammer-Sams House, 37 New Street); other private houses (including Seabrook Plantation on Edisto Island); and the first State House in Columbia (which he almost certainly had nothing to do with). But it was his work in Charleston that commended him to President George Washington during the latter’s southern tour in 1791.

A MAJOR COMMISSION Seeking an alternative to the mercurial French planner and army officer L'Enfant, President Washington sought out Hoban and gave him critical advantage in the architectural competition administered by Thomas Jefferson for an Executive Mansion or President’s House in the new Federal Capital. In the building’s eight-year period of construction, Hoban became renowned for his efficiency, attention to detail and leadership. The result was that when the building of the U.S. Capitol (to Dr. William Thornton’s design) ran into problems, he was appointed to head that project also. Hoban thus became the first tenured United States Surveyor of Public Buildings. Though he lost this position in 1803 (to B. Henry Latrobe, son of a Dublin-born Huguenot preacher who had emigrated to England), Hoban continued to work on White House projects for the next thirty years and was also involved in the building of the first U.S. Treasury building, and early buildings to house the Departments of War, State and Navy (the last of these survived until the 1860s). In the late 1790s Hoban acted as ‘measurer’ on the Tayloe house (The Octagon), also to William Thornton’s design – it is now part of the American Institute of Architects’ headquarters complex. It is commonly regarded as the finest small residence to be constructed in the early development of the Federal capital.


James Hoban died in 1831, and was buried in St. Patrick’s, then later at Mount Olivet Cemetery, where his gravesite and memorial stone were refurbished in 1998. James Hoban’s enduring claim to fame lies in his involvement with the world’s most famous public building and his undisputed position as first Federal Architect – ‘the only personage connected with the federal city who remained continually involved with it,’ according to one tribute. He was also, however, an extensive property owner in his own right and had many other commercial interests. His civic involvement was notable and he acted at various times as militia leader, census taker, and member of district bodies, including Washington City Council, where he served for more than a quarter of a century. As well as being a founding member of the First Federal Lodge of the Freemasons, he was also a lifelong member of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, whose establishment he secured, and a friend of the Jesuit community at Georgetown, where some of his family of ten were educated, and where his son Henry, who had qualified as a doctor, later became a priest.

Although he is not known to have visited Ireland, the design of Rossenarra House (c. 1824) near Kilmoganny, about six miles from his native area, is attributed to him; a 2006 Irish government survey adds three other attributions in the locality. A wooden desk made by James Hoban was donated to The White House in 1974. Commemorative stamps featuring Hoban and the White House were issued in 1981 in Ireland and the United States.

Ireland commemoration

A memorial arbor is being designed to honor James Hoban near his birth place and is expected to be completed by 2008. A major exhibition on his life is to take place at the White House Visitor Center.

See also

A James Hoban: Events section has now been added to the White House Historical Association website noted below



  • Bryan, Wilhelmus Bogart (1914), A History of the National Capital, The Macmillan company, <http://books.google.com/books?id=EkoOAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA194&lpg=PA194&dq=%22james+hoban%22+superintendent&source=web&ots=62c4xQxFab&sig=Eu8wkRSei-ghurXgMI9xxS11R3Y>. Retrieved on 17 January 2008 
  • Frary, Ihna Thayer (1969). They Built the Capitol. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 0836950895. 

Macmillan Publishers Ltd, also known as The Macmillan Group, is a privately-held international publishing company owned by Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. ...

External links

  Results from FactBites:
James Hoban - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (438 words)
Hoban was a humanitarian who had difficulties with slavery and always attempted to treat them with dignity and respect.
The building was damaged in the War of 1812 and Hoban was involved in its restoration.
A memorial arbour is being designed to honour James Hoban near his birth place and is expected to be completed by 2008.
hobanbio (110 words)
James Hoban was born in Desart, near Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland, near the home of Edmund Rice's family.
Hoban's design was successful and from 1793 to 1800 he oversaw the work of construction.
James Hoban died in Washington D.C. on December 8th.
  More results at FactBites »



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