She’s Keen on preservation

Published 12:09 pm Saturday, May 2, 2009

SMITHFIELD—Carolyn Keen has loved “things of the past” all her life and is adamant about saving them for the future.

This determination has led her to document and preserve information about old homes, churches and stores — and their contents — in Southampton, Isle of Wight, Sussex and Surry counties.

Although her research is primarily in the Tidewater area, it seems word of her work has spread. For her longtime devotion to historic preservation in Virginia’s Southside, she was recently chosen by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities to receive its 2009 Award for Outstanding Historic Preservation Research.

“I was surprised, but so thrilled,” she said. “I am a member and have worked with the APVA for a long time but had no idea that they would, or even could, nominate me for this award.”

Keen traveled to the APVA awards presentation ceremony and reception in Richmond to receive her award in February.

The dedicated historian, who was nominated by an APVA staff member, said the review committee selected her on the basis of her digital image database.

She said the five images she submitted and on which she was judged, along with images supplied by other winners, were displayed during the reception. “Needless to say, I felt honored,” she added with a smile.

For her latest book, tentatively titled “Old Country Stores,” she has taken hundreds of digital photos of the old buildings, documents, ledgers, furniture and anything connected to the early history of these businesses, and filed them.

“When I run into one of these old structures,” Keen says, “If it’s still standing, I take a picture. Then I try to find relatives or friends who may remember something about the store.”

She says sadly, “These old buildings are passing away right before our eyes. Before long, nobody will remember them.”

If Keen has her way, though, there will be a record. She plans to donate copies of all the pictures used in the book to the Library of Virginia and the state Department of Historic Resources.

The book is about 50 percent complete, and Keen is appealing to the public for help. She urges residents of the four counties to look in their attics and basements for old photographs, journals, ledgers, documents, or anything connected with an old country store.

“If they will contact me at 757-357-2173, I’ll pick up the documents, make copies and get the originals back within a short time. Of course, credit will be given to the owners of all the material I use.”

“A project like this takes time,” Keen went on. “But it is so satisfying to finally complete it.”

Keen speaks from experience, for she has already completed one book. She added early pictures and information to the ones included in Helen King’s book, “Historic Isle of Wight,” and republished it.

She adds that this book received quite a bit of favorable attention.