The White House, then known as “the President’s House,” was the first public building to be erected in Washington. In 1790, the Commissioners of the District held a competition, seeking designs for the future executive mansion. A prize of $500 would be awarded to the winning architect. Hundreds of hopeful American architects participated–including Thomas Jefferson, who submitted his design anonymously. But the Commissioners chose instead the blueprint of a young Irish immigrant, James Hoban.
James was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1758, the son of Edward Hoban and Martha Bayne. In 1772, he went to Dublin and studied architecture under Thomas Ivory. Eight years later, in 1780, he won a gold medal from the Dublin Society for his “Drawings of Brackets, Stairs, Roofs, etc.”
Following the end of the War of the American Revolution in 1783, James bought a one-way passage on a Dublin merchantman and sailed to Philadelphia, then the USA’s capital and also its largest and fastest-growing city. On May 25, 1785, he took out an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Evening Herald, offering his services as an architect.
Projects were a little slow coming his way, so, in 1787, James took the advice of several friends in his Masonic lodge and moved to Charleston, S.C. There his career really caught fire. “From 1787 to 1792, he designed Savage’s Green Theatre and a plan for an orphan asylum.” In 1790, he designed and supervised the construction of Prospect Hill, the plantation house on Edisto Island, 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Charleston.
On July 18, 1792, the Commission awarded James the $500 and invited him to “oversee and implement construction of the President’s House.”
“Hoban based his design on the Leinster House in Dublin (1745-1751)…Late Georgian in style, with a giant portico bisecting a rectangular, three-story building, its facades were organized according to a traditional Renaissance-derived palace type with the principal story raised above ground, its tall windows surrounded by pediments marking its importance.”
The building site was nothing to write home about. Both the White House and Lafayette Square had been situated by Pierre L’Enfant in “The Barrens,” a scrubland notable for its panoramic south-facing view of the Potomac River.
Leinster House is located on Kildare Street in Dublin, just south of Temple Bar and Trinity College.The man who built the Leinster House was James Fitzgerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare. He began construction in 1745, the year of the civil war in Scotland which culminated in the defeat of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” at Culloden. In 1747, James Fitzgerald married Emily Lennox, the daughter of Charles Lennox, the Duke of Richmond, and a godfather to King George II. As a result of this favorable marriage, James was made Viscount Leinster in 1749 by George II and later the Duke of Leinster in 1766 by George III. He was a man, well regarded by all, who looked after his tenents and workers, during times of great difficulty.
On April 26, 1779, James Fitzgerald and Dr. George A. Cunningham of Dublin wrote to Thomas Arthur of Irvine, Scotland, Master of the Mother Lodge in Kilwinning, and requested permission to “form a Lodge of the same name in Dublin.” This was the Kilwinning Lodge, also known as the High Knights Templar Lodge of Ireland.
Curiously, one of James Fitzgerald’s ancestors was involved with the original Knights Templar. According to The History of the Knights Templar, Maurice FitzGerald invited the Templars to organize banking houses in Dublin. A delegation of Templars under Roger le Waleis moved to Dublin in 1204 from the order’s stronghold at Templemore on Ireland’s southern coast. The Templar order was suppressed a century later in 1314.
The Hoban medallion was struck in 1993, by The Supreme Council 33rd Degree, Mother Jurisdiction of the World A & A.S.R of Freemasonry in its 192nd Year. The reverse of the medallion has a view commemorating the 200th anniversary of George Washington laying the corner stone of the US Capitol Building in 1793.