News & Politics

The Grave of James Hoban, Who Designed the White House, Is Getting a Refresh

The White House Historical Association will recognize the work of the Irish immigrant

Photograph by Vacclav via iStock.

Today, the White House Historical Association will host a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of James Hoban, designer and builder of the White House. The ceremony will be held at Mount Olivet Cemetery at 1 PM to honor the Irish immigrant whose design for the president’s house was selected in 1792.

According to WHHA President Stewart McLaurin, Hoban’s design for the presidential residence was hand-selected by  George Washington, beating out a design from Thomas Jefferson. Washington had come across Hoban’s work in Charleston during a Southern tour, and requested a submission from him when the time came to build the executive home.

“[Washington] did not want a grand European palace, but he wanted a president’s house befitting the leader of this new country,” McLaurin says. “Hoban was accustomed to the look of the Irish country houses — a stone house — which was not  common in our country, but was respected in Europe.”

Hoban was buried downtown at St. Patrick’s Church (which he also designed) in 1831. His body was later moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery, where it was forgotten over time. The Daughters of the American Revolution recently brought the grave’s disrepair to the attention of WHHA. “I went out there last August on a hot summer day, saw this marker, and immediately thought, ‘this deserves restoring and to maintain it perpetually,'” McLaurin says

Appropriate repairs have been made to the grave, and the wreath laying ceremony will include the installation of a commemorative plaque that will honor Hoban’s legacy, as well as the role played by enslaved peoples and free laborers in building the White House. McLaurin says the WHHA will have a similar memorial every St. Patrick’s Day in the future. On March 17, the WHHA will host a book launch for “James Hoban: Designer and Builder of the White House.”

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Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.