Keen wins APVA award

Published 5:47 pm Saturday, February 14, 2009

Some look at an old building and just see its deteriorating structure.

Carolyn Keen looks at an old building and sees its story, the people who lived there, worked there or simply made it the building it was.

“They are pieces of art, just like a painting would be,” Keen said. “They are just magnificent works of art and craftsmanship. Believe me; these houses were not put together by electric staple guns.”

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To help keep the legacy of these pieces of art, Keen has put together a digital database of more than 80,000 images of old houses, country stores and buildings throughout the Suffolk, Surry and Isle of Wight area. The database contains up to date photos as well as pictures taken decades before.

“These pictures, many of them, no one has ever seen before,” Keen said. “The mission of our project is to get information in one place for researchers. I hope 50 years from now people who are interested in it find it useful. Down the road, I want researchers to have these available to them.”

And that passion has led Keen to be awarded the honor of Outstanding Research Effort by APVA Preservation Virginia, a private non-profit organization and statewide historic preservation leader.

“Preservation moves forward with a unique combination of professionals and passionate volunteers. Few have showed more passion and dedication than Carolyn Keen of Suffolk,” read the announcement of Keen’s award. “APVA specifically honors Carolyn for the painstaking construction of a photographic database of over 50,000 images of historic resources in the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry and Sussex, an important and too often underappreciated region of the Commonwealth.”

APVA Preservation Virginia’s mission is to preserve, promote and serve as an advocate for the state’s irreplaceable historic places – and Keen has become a familiar face to the organization.

“I’m constantly giving them updates,” Keen said with a laugh. “I call myself the APVA unofficial point of contact out here.”

Even though Keen deals with the organization so frequently, she was still surprised to be honored.

“I was very thrilled they took me seriously, because I’m sort of out here doing this myself and you wonder, ‘Does anyone appreciate it?’ I was real surprised to get recognized,” she said.

Currently, Keen is working on a book solely focused on the rise and fall of country stores in the region.

“I guess (country stores) are just near and dear to everyone’s heart,” Keen said. “I just love the history and the people who worked in them. These country stores – the ledgers will show – they carried the community.”

The book will be ready this time next year, Keen said, and will feature some classic Suffolk stores.

While working on the book, Keen is still interested in any leads on historic buildings in the area and asked that if anyone has a particular property or information to contact her at 357-2173 or e-mail at