One of the most prolific and popular designers of the country house, Charles Barton Keen was born in Philadelphia, the son of Charles B. and Harriet I. Keen. After early preparation at the Rugby Academy, Keen entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1889. After graduation he entered the workforce but continued to take courses at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (1890/91; 1891/92). In 1889 he also began working as a draftsman for T. P. Chandler
, but 1890 found him in the office of Frank Miles Day
, where he remained through 1892, serving first as draftsman and then head draftsman.
Independent work for Keen is reported in the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide in 1893 and 1894. By 1894 Keen and Frank Mead, also a student at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art and a draftsman with Frank Miles Day, would establish Keen & Mead. The young architects developed a practice that was chiefly residential, but their partnership would last only until 1901 when Mead appears to have left Philadelphia. Following the dissolution of the partnership, Keen worked independently, only associating with Harry G. McMurtrie briefly in 1912. At least by 1903 Keen was working with the Woodmere Land Association on Long Island, NY, where he not only designed the residence, stable and playhouse on the estate of R. L. Burton, owner of the Woodmere Land Association, but he also designed the railroad stations, stores and several other residences.
Keen's practice would eventually extend from Maine to Florida, peppering the East Coast with his brand of the colonial revival country house. Notable among the many dwellings designed by Keen is a group in North Carolina, including "Reynolda" for R. J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem (1913). In North Carolina Keen was so popular that he was also asked to design the Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem (1921), the Winston-Salem Hospital (1921), and the Greensboro Country Club (1922). So successful were Keen's ventures into the South, that in 1923 the PRERBG reported that "owing to the constantly increasing growth of his practice in the South, it is necessary to establish his home office in Winston-Salem, N.C., and on May 1st will open offices at Wachivia Bank and Trust Co." During his absence from Philadelphia, G. E. Brumbaugh supervised the practice.
Amply published in monographs regarding country houses, especially in the 1920s, Keen represented the best of the colonial revival designers, catering to a wealthy clientele for whom he created sometimes lavish interpretations of the popular style.