Book will focus on old country stores

Published 10:41 am Friday, September 30, 2011

Jones & Co. Store, Battery Park, Isle of Wight County -- Photo Courtesy of Debbie W. Chappell ca 1903


ISLE OF WIGHT—Isle of Wight County resident Carolyn Keen is writing a book entitled “Country Stores South of the James River, Va.—Life Behind the Counter.”

Keen is gathering photographs of old country stores in Isle of Wight, Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties for her book. Each photograph will be accompanied by as much information about the store as can be obtained from its owner and/or relatives and friends of the owner.

Although Keen has assembled materials on many of the stores, there are more out there.

“It takes a long time to gather all this information,” she said. “I would be grateful if anyone who has pictures of any old stores in these areas would let me use them.”

Keen said originals can be scanned and immediately returned to the owners. Credit will be given to the owner of each photograph when published.

She can be reached at 357-2173 or

Keen, who earned the Preservation of Virginia’s award for Outstanding Historic Preservation Research for 2009 and 2010, has been interested in preserving the past for many years.

She has published a book on old buildings in Surry County and revised and published local historian Helen King’s book on historic homes in Isle of Wight County.

“I believe that preserving these images is so important for the future,” Keen said. “The country store was often the center of a community, selling everything from foods to coffins. And if this information isn’t recorded soon, so much will be forgotten.”

“People gathered at the country store to learn what was going on in the community, exchanged opinions and information, helped each other and traded what they didn’t need to the merchant for things they did need,” she added. “The many hours spent talking around the pot-belly stove when the men came in from the fields was a tradition and the checker board was always there — checker games often lasted for hours.”

In reality, the country store kept members of the community fed, clothed and warm.

“But the store could not exist without the community,” she said. “They were as dependent on the people as the people were on them.”

She noted there still are stores in Southampton, Sussex and Surry that she needs information on and urges people to contact her. Stores include the Burdette Trading Post, Johnnie Smith, Cookes, Stella Vick, Gray on Shiloh, Fuller, Cross Keys, George Edwards, Gray on Burnt Reed, Hugh H. Barrett, R.C. Smith, J.P. Johnson and Sebrell stores in Southampton County.

Sussex stores include Lumberton, Yale, Prince, Seaborn and West Hope, while those in Surry are H.H.Gilliam, G.A. Gwaltney, Elsie Harrison, R.W. James, M.R. Johnson, H.C. Land & Co., J.H. Lane, R.B. Oman, W.H. Ramsey, W.H. Savedge, Emily Scott, H.E. Seward, Fannie B. Spratley, P.G. West, J.C. Whitmore, L.T. Williams, W.F. Wolley and Sam White.

Keen‘s address is P.O. Box 2449, Suffolk, Va., 23432.