James Hoban – an architect to remember

A fascinating diary article in today’s Irish Times by Brian O’Connell[subs req] on the life and legacy of James Hoban – and the marking, later this month, of the 175th anniversary of his death in 1831, part of a series of commemorations planned by the Consortium of James Hoban Societies over the next two years. Hoban was born c 1758 in Desart Kilkenny, on the estate of the Cuffe family.. although Wikipedia disagrees on the date, as does this short bio. His design, based on Leinster House, for the President’s House was selected by George Washington in 1792 and Hoban worked on building, rebuilding and enhancing what would become the White House, including the repairs that were needed after that fire in 1814. He also became a trusted advisor to three of the five presidents who held office during his time in Washington.After training and working in Dublin, his professional life after immigrating to America around 1782 is described at the James Hoban Society website

James Hoban practiced as an architect in Philadelphia, Charleston (South Carolina) and Washington over a period of almost fifty years. His work in Philadelphia and Charleston is not well documented, but his record was sufficient to impress President George Washington and have him request Hoban’s involvement in the building that would become The White House. Hoban worked on building, rebuilding and enhancing the President’s House for almost forty years. He was also involved, as architect, surveyor or project manager, in the construction of The U.S. Capitol, the first buildings to house the Departments of the Treasury and War, The Octagon and a number of commercial and residential buildings in the Washington area. James Hoban was an extensive property owner and had other commercial interests.

Along with some other wonderful details

With his wife Susan Sewell James Hoban had 10 children. He also owned 9 slaves. 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, bringing the Dominican Fr. Andrew Caffrey from Dublin to act as pastor. 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 recently refurbished (1998).

There was a joint issue of two stamps in 1981 in the US and Ireland

And the Irish Times article has some other details to note as well

Hoban’s efforts have been consistently recognised on Capitol Hill, with Bill Clinton remarking in 2000 to Bertie Ahern that he sometimes felt haunted by the ghost of James Hoban. Kilkenny County Council and the Office of Public Works now have the responsibility to erect a monument fitting a man of Hoban’s architectural stature, and initiate the process of raising awareness of Hoban’s extraordinary achievements.

Plans are well advanced for the development of a James Hoban Memorial Arbour close to his birthplace at Desart. The memorial will incorporate landscaped areas, stone features and display elements, as well as a recreational area for visitors. The site is scheduled for completion this month.

It is also proposed to produce an illustrated booklet-style publication to highlight Hoban’s work for the one million visitors who pass through the White House each year, with little knowledge of the building’s architect. Publication is scheduled for 2008.

When the Hoban Memorial is unveiled at his birthplace in Desart this month it is hoped that the architect will be elevated to his rightful place alongside Ireland’s greatest innovators instead of remaining a forgotten footnote in Irish emigrant history.

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