North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Keen, Joseph (1812-1875)

Birthplace: England
  • Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Brickmason
NC Work Locations:
  • Wilmington, New Hanover County
  • New Hanover
Building Types:
  • Commercial
Styles & Forms:
  • Greek Revival


Joseph Keen (1812-May 1, 1875) was an English-born brickmason who came to Wilmington, North Carolina, along with other immigrant artisans during the city's antebellum building boom. In 1848 he and partner Maxwell Huston advertised as agents for a marble manufactory "at the north," who could take orders for tombstones. (This was a frequent sideline for masonry contractors in Wilmington, which lacked local stone.) Keen was listed in the United States census of 1860 as a mason in Wilmington with his wife Emma and their children. In 1851 he advertised as a "Contractor and Builder, of the late firm of Keen and Huston," able to take construction contracts and to supply lime, plaster, plaster hair, and fire brick. Keen's principal known project, probably one among many, was the iron-fronted, brick Scott and Baldwin Store (1854), for which he did the brickwork "with his usual fidelity and skill," while James F. Post drew the plans and did the carpentry. In 1855, Joseph Keen and carpenter George W. Rose won the bid to build the City Hall-Thalian Hall (1854-1858), the city's principal civic edifice, from designs by New York theater architect John M. Trimble. But when the sponsors changed the plans to make the building larger, Keen and Rose "declined" to take the job. The contract went to John C. Wood and Robert B. Wood (see Wood Brothers) for the masonry, Rose for carpentry, and James F. Post as supervising architect. Keen continued in the trade and by 1860 owned $3,500 in personal and real property. He doubtless accomplished many other projects, as yet unidentified, in Wilmington. In 1874, "though afflicted," he was "still prepared to carry on my old business," with his son Joseph Jr. He died the next year and was buried in Oakdale Cemetery.

Author: Catherine W. Bishir.

Published 2009

Building List

Scott and Baldwin Store (Wilmington, New Hanover County)

New Hanover Wilmington


Dates: 1854
Location: Wilmington, New Hanover County
Street Address: S side, 100 block Market St., Wilmington, NC
Status: No longer standing
  • Commercial

The newspaper announced that Post had done the plan and carpentry work for the iron-fronted store.

City Hall-Thalian Hall (Wilmington, New Hanover County)

New Hanover Wilmington


Dates: 1855-1858; 1901; 1904
Location: Wilmington, New Hanover County
Street Address: 102 N 3rd St., Wilmington, NC
Status: Standing
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
  • Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).

In 1901 Henry E. Bonitz planned a redecoration of the clerk's and treasurer's office, and in 1904 he made major improvements to the theater in Thalian Hall to keep up with changing theater styles, comply with fire and safety regulations, and make repairs. Updated over the years, the imposing building continues as a civic landmark and still serves its original purposes. It has been the scene of many political events and notable theatrical performances.

City Hall-Thalian Hall

Joseph Keen's Work Locations


  • William Reaves Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, North Carolina.
  • Isabel M. Williams, "Thalian Hall," unpublished manuscript, copy in State Historic Preservation Office, Raleigh, North Carolina (1977, 2003).
  • Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
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