Friday, July 14, 2006

White House design based on Ireland's first Masonic lodge building

The first public building to be erected in Washington, D.C., was The White House, originally called "the President's House."

A competition was held in 1790 to find a suitable design for a presidential mansion. A prize of $500 would be awarded to the winning architect. Hundreds of hopeful American architects submitted designs. Even Thomas Jefferson submitted a design, anonymously. But the $500 award went to a young Irish immigrant, James Hoban.

Born in County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1758, Hoban later went to Dublin and studied architecture under Thomas Ivory. He later won a gold medal from the Dublin Society for his "Drawings of Brackets, Stairs, Roofs, etc." At some point while in Dublin he became a Freemason.

Hoban moved to Philadelphia in 1783, shortly after the end of the American Revolution, and set up shop as an architect.

In 1787, Hoban moved to Charleston, S.C., and his career took off. He designed both a theatre and an orphan asylum, as well as a plantation house on Edisto Island, 20 miles south of Charleston.

On July 18, 1792, he was awarded the $500 and invited to "oversee and implement construction of the President's House."

One writer reports "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 mansion was to be built in what was called "The Barrens," chosen by Piere L'Enfant for its notable panoramic view of the Potomac River.

Construction on the Leinster House began in 1745, by James Fitzgerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare. Two years later, 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.

The Duke was also a key figure in Irish Freemasonry. Though original lodge papers of Knights Templar Kilwinning Lodge No. 75 and the Grand Master's Lodge of Dublin disappeared in the 1790s, Fitzgerald's great-grandson the then-Duke of Leinster claimed that a century earlier, on January 3, 1749, James Fitzgerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare, had founded the Grand Master's Lodge.

A letter shows that 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 lodge was approved, and became Kilwinning Lodge No. 75, also known as the High Knights Templar of Ireland.

The Leinster House was the first home of Kilwinning Lodge No. 75.

According to The History of the Knights Templar, Maurice fitzGerald, one of James Fitzgerald's ancestors, invited the original Knights Templar to organize banking houses in Dublin. In 1204 a delegation of Templars under Roger le Waleis moved to Dublin 1204 from Templemore on Ireland's southern coast.

According to researcher David Ovason, "a letter submitted by 'a gentleman' offers the only surviving eyewitness version of the Masonic cornerstone laying, which was held on Saturday, October 13, 1792, when the Georgetown Lodge No. 9 of Maryland gathered for the ceremony."

A news story appeared in the Charleston City Gazette for November 15, 1792 and reads, in part, "On Saturday the 13th inst. the first stone was laid in the south-west corner of the president's house, in the city of Washington, by the Free Masons of Georgetown and its vicinity, who assembled on the occasion. The procession was formed at the Fountain Inn, Georgetown... The Ceremony was performed by brother Casaneva, master of the lodge, who delivered an oration well adapted to the occasion."

According to the Gazette, "the inscription on the brass plate," placed inside the cornerstone, "ran:"
"This first stone of the President's House was laid the 12th day of October 1792, and in the 17th Year of the Independence of the United States of America."

George Washington, President
Thomas Johnson
Doctor Stewart, Commissioners
Daniel Carroll,
James Hoban, Architect
Collen Williamson, Master Mason
Vivat Respublica.
Evidence shows that George Washington was not in the nation's capital on October 12, but was in Philadelphia (the former capital). Mainstream tradition now says that the cornerstone was laid on October 12, 1792, to commemorate the Tricentennial anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas. Masonic traditions, though, says that it was actually laid on the 13th, not the 12th, to commemorate Black Friday, the original "Friday the 13th," October 13, 1307, the day the Knights Templar were overthrown in France.

On September 6, 1793, Hoban and two other Masons petitioned the Grand Lodge to form a new lodge. The petition was granted, and Hoban became Master of the newly-formed Federal Lodge No. 15.

Hoban returned to the Federal City full-time, and spent the rest of his life working on the White House, as well as establishing Washington's first Catholic church, St. Patrick's, as well as later working on St. Peter's. He was a devout Catholic as well as a Freemason, though years earlier Pope Clement VII had banned Roman Catholics from becoming Masons.

During the War of 1812, much of Washington, D.C., was set ablaze, including the White House. Rain extinguished the fire, and Hoban immediately began restorations. He was assisted by his friend and fellow Mason, Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

Before the War, Latrobe had tried to convince President Jefferson to allow him to add two porticos to the White House, one on the north side which resembled the entrance to a Greek temple, and one on the south side in a semi-circular shape reminiscent of an ancient solar temple.

During restoration, Jefferson approved the changes. Hoban supervised the project, completing the south portico in 1824, and the north portico in 1829, two years before his death.

The White House's south portico faces the sun and the 555-foot obelisk we now call the Washington Monument. The obelisk stands at the exact center of the city.

According to researcher Ovason, if you were to draw a straight line from the White House's south portico to the Washington Monument (cornerstone laid on July 4, 1848, delayed for 20 years and not completed until 1884), and then continue that line in the same direction, it would take you across the Potomac River to Alexandria, Virginia, and the George Washington Masonic Memorial, built in 1923, which is an exact replica of the original lighthouse that guarded the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt.

America's presidential mansion, The White House, was modelled after the first Masonic Lodge in Ireland.

This article was written by the Widow's Son, based on information from and other sources.

Images: 1. The White House. 2. Leinster House, rear view. 3. Leinster House, front view. Click on the images to enlarge.

| | | | | | | | |


  1. I don't think Josh the Baptist would approve of the White House design being based on a Masonic Lodge.

    Especially an Irish one.

  2. Josh the Baptist doesn't approve of anything unless he heard John Ankerberg, Ken Ham, Walter Martin or Kent Hovind say it first.

    — W.S.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.