College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; Graduate School

Clemson student discovers the architectural link between South Carolina and the White House


A Clemson University graduate student is making his mark on Charleston’s historic landscape with a discovery that connects Charleston to the design of the White House.

James “Shea” McEnerney, a graduate student in Clemson’s master of science in historic preservation program (MSHP), researched and discovered that James Hoban, the architect best known for designing the White House, was a leading figure in the establishment of the Catholic Parish at St. Mary’s of the Annunciation, the first Catholic parish in the Carolina’s and Georgia. He was a founding Parish Vestryman and was an inaugural tither upon the parish’s formal incorporation in 1791.

McEnerney has now been invited to write the literature of a historical marker recognizing Hoban’s involvement in the Catholic communities of both Late Colonial Charleston and the new Federal City at Washington, D.C. The marker is the result of a partnership between The White House Historical Association, The Preservation Society of Charleston, and St. Mary of the Annunciation.

Historical marker outside St. Mary of the Annunciation in Charleston Catholic Church

“The White House Historical Association is honored to partner with the Preservation Society of Charleston to present a plaque honoring James Hoban’s legacy in Charleston,” said Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Assocaition. “Without Charleston and St. Mary’s, the White House and its history could literally have looked quite different.”

McLaurin invited McEnerney to Washington in November 2021 to continue his research. He was able to meet with a team of historians and colleagues in the field of architecture and historic preservation that helped him further his research of Hoban’s limited known history. He was able to join McLaurin again in Washington for the 2022 James Hoban wreath laying ceremony at his gravesite in Mt. Olivet Cemetery this past March. McEnerney was also invited to join the White House Historical Association as an inaugural Next-Generation Committee Ambassador.

McLaurin came up with the idea of creating and establishing a historical marker at St. Mary’s to solidify the connection between Washington and Charleston. McLaurin asked McEnerney to write the copy that would go on the historical marker as it coincided with his ongoing thesis research on architectural education in colonial America. The White House Historical Association sponsored the marker.

“It was an honor to work with Shea to honor the legacy of James Hoban in the city of Charleston,” McLaurin said. “Shea’s diligent research helped decisively determine Hoban’s founding role at St. Mary’s and his hard work helped make the unveiling of the historical marker honoring James Hoban in Charleston a reality.”

“Our students are so fortunate to be able to study historic preservation in Charleston,” said Jon Marcoux, director of Clemson’s master’s in historic preservation program. “It’s one of the world’s finest preservation classrooms and learning laboratories. As Shea’s project demonstrates, our location provides students with amazing opportunities for historical discovery that they simply could not get elsewhere in the country.”

McEnerney has always felt a love of architectural history especially after a visit to Charleston on a family trip while in high school. McEnerney felt an immediate interest in the city’s fantastically preserved and protected colonial architecture. Upon learning that Clemson’s MSHP program was based in Charleston, he felt it was fate and enrolled.

Shea McEnerney (left) and Stewart McLaurin (right).

“The Clemson MSHP program has provided what I feel to be an unparalleled foundation for a preservationist. Not only are all of our professors working practitioners in the field, but each represents different and unique facets of the field itself,” McEnerney said. “Exposure to and rigorous study of these coexisting facets of the field allow for a holistic foundation and the ability to speak many languages and wear many hats once we enter the field. It has been an immense honor to be a student of this program and I am beyond certain that we are set up for success as a result.”

McEnerney was awarded the Ashley R. & George H. Wilson Fellowship in Historic Preservation from Clemson University and the 2022 Sallie E. Simons Preservation Scholarship from The Preservation Society of Charleston. He completed an internship with Lotts Architecture and Urbanism last summer in Dublin, Ireland that lead to his interest of James Hoban because of his Irish background. McEnerney will graduate this May and start his career as a preservation specialist with STRATA Architecure + Preservation in Kansas City.

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