James Hoban was an Irish Catholic raised on an estate belonging to the Earl of Desart in Callan, County Kilkenny. He worked there as a wheelwright and carpenter until his early twenties, when he was given an 'advanced student' place in the Dublin Society's Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street. He studied under Thomas Ivory. He excelled in his studies and received the prestigious Duke of Leinster's medal for drawings of "Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs." from the Dublin Society in 1780. Later, Hoban found a position as an apprentice to Ivory, from 1779 to 1785.
Invoice dated March 27, 1802 for Sunday painting at Balustrades & Portico of the Octagon is signed by James Hoban.
Hoban was in South Carolina by April 1787, where he designed numerous buildings including the Charleston County Courthouse (1790-92), built on the ruins of the former South Carolina Statehouse (1753, burned 1788). President Washington admired Hoban's work on his Southern Tour, may have met with him in Charleston in May 1791, and summoned the architect to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the temporary national capital) in June 1792.
In July 1792, Hoban was named winner of the design competition for the White House. His initial design seems to have had a 3-story facade, nine bays across (like the Charleston courthouse). Under Washington's influence, Hoban amended this to a 2-story facade, 11 bays across, and, at Washington's insistence, the whole presidential mansion was faced with stone. It is unclear whether any of Hoban's surviving drawings are actually from the competition.
It is known that Hoban owned at least three slaves who were employed as carpenters in the construction of the White House. Their names are recorded as "Ben, Daniel, and Peter" and appear in a James Hoban slave payroll.
Hoban's wife Susanna Sewall was the daughter of the prominent Georgetown "City Tavern" proprietor.
After the District of Columbia was granted limited home rule in 1802, Hoban served on the twelve-member city council for most of the remainder of his life, except during the years he was rebuilding the White House. Hoban was also involved in the development of Catholic institutions in the city, including Georgetown University (where his son was a member of the Jesuit community), St. Patrick's Parish, and the Georgetown Visitation Monastery founded by another Kilkenny native, Teresa Lalor of Ballyragget.
Little has been published to catalogue Hoban's architectural work.
Charleston County Courthouse, 82-86 Broad Street, Charleston, SC (1790-92). Both this building and the White House were modeled on Leinster House, the current Irish Parliament Building, that in the 18th century was the home of the Gaelic Norman Fitzgerald Family, Earls of Kildare.
The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. - (1792-1800). Following the 1814 burning of the White House, Hoban rebuilt the Southern Portico for President James Monroe (1824), and the Northern Portico for President Andrew Jackson (1829).
Belcamp House - Belcamp College, Malahide road, Dublin 17, Built complete with "oval office" . The college was Established around it in 1893 as a juniorate for the Oblate Fathers, It was built onto the original house but the house still stands intact today. A mini White House, and an overlooked piece of history.
Blodget's Union Public Hotel (a.k.a. Blodget's Lottery Hotel), site of the first General Post Office of the United States, northeast corner of 8th and E Streets, Washington, D.C. - 1783 (Demolished in 1856)
Wye Hall (John Paca mansion), Wye Island directly opposite Wye Plantation, Maryland - circa 1787 (Demolished 1789)
The Charleston Theatre, New and Broad Streets, Charleston, S.C. - 1792 (Demolished)
Northeast Executive Building, Fifteenth Street, near The White House (Demolished)
Market House (a.k.a. "Marsh Market"), Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street, Washington, D.C. - 1801 (Demolished)
St. Patrick's Church, Corner of 14th and H Streets, NW, Washington, D.C. (Demolished. Now the site of the old Grand Lodge building)
St Mary's Chapel (a.k.a. Barry's Chapel), Roman Catholic parish church, 10th and F Streets, Washington, D.C. - 1806 (Demolished; its cornerstone was saved, and is now inserted in the outer wall of the Holy Name Chapel, the Church of St. Dominic.)
Numerous events were held around 2008 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth.
In 2008, a memorial arbor to honor James Hoban was completed near his birthplace, and a major exhibition on his life took place at the White House Visitor Center.
Dublin Made Him..., a one-day colloquium in honour of Hoban, took place on October 3, 2008, at the (RDS) in Dublin, Ireland. It was presented by the RDS in association with the White House Historical Association, the U.S. Embassy in Ireland, and the James Hoban Societies of the U.S. and Ireland.
The Irish-American group Solas have a song "John Riordan's Heels/The Bath Jig/Hoban's White House" on their album For Love and Laughter. Group member Mick McAuley, like Hoban, is from Kilkenny, and named the song in Hoban's honor.