Keen, Joseph (1812-1875)

Birthplace:

England

Residences:

  • Wilmington, North Carolina

Trades:

  • Brickmason

Building Types:

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.

  • 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  • Isabel M. Williams, “Thalian Hall,” unpublished manuscript, copy in State Historic Preservation Office, Raleigh, North Carolina (1977, 2003).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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  • City Hall-Thalian Hall

    Contributors:
    Henry E. Bonitz, architect (1901; 1904); Robert Finey, brickmason (1855-1858); William Finey, brickmason (1855-1858); Joseph Keen, overseer (1855-1858); James F. Post, supervising architect (1855-1858); Price Family, plasterer (1855-1858); John M. Trimble, architect (1855-1858); James Walker, foreman and general manager (1855-1858); Wood Brothers, builders (1855-1858); John C. Wood, builder (1855-1858); Robert B. Wood, builder (1855-1858)
    Dates:

    1855-1858; 1901; 1904

    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:

    102 N 3rd St., Wilmington, NC

    Status:

    Standing

    Type:

    Public

    Images Puslished 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).

    Note:

    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.


  • Scott and Baldwin Store

    Contributors:
    Joseph Keen, brickmason; James F. Post, carpenter
    Dates:

    1854

    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:

    S side, 100 block Market St., Wilmington, NC

    Status:

    No longer standing

    Type:

    Commercial

    Note:

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


  • Tileston School

    Contributors:
    Leslie N. Boney, Sr., architect (1937); Cape Fear Building Company, contractors; John A. Fox, architect (1871-1872); Joseph Keen, builder (1871-1872); Joseph F. Leitner, architect (1910); Alex Strausz, architect-builder (1871-1872); James Walker, superintending architect/contractor (1871-1872)
    Dates:

    1871-1872; 1910 [expanded]; 1937 [expanded]

    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:

    400 Ann St., Wilmington, NC

    Status:

    Altered

    Type:

    Educational

    Images Puslished In:

    Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).

    Note:

    The development of the school is somewhat complex and the roles of those involved in its 1871-1872 construction uncertain. Newspaper articles mention both Walker and Keen as builders. The original 2-story section of brick was completed in 1872 and was later expanded. One expansion was the “enlarge high school” project noted for Leitner in the Manufacturers’ Record of June 30, 1910. Boney planned the third addition, the Ann Street wings. It was estimated to cost $26,000. The illustration here depicts the Tileston School in essentially its original picturesque form. The porch and most of the decorations have been removed, though the original school still stands at the core of the present complex. A more recent photograph appears in Wrenn, Wilmington.


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