As late as the 1950's, the area served by the Katharine Drexel Branch was mostly lush farmland and open space. This otherwise unremarkable rural area was the birthplace of Benjamin Rush, the renowned Revolutionary War physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In 1954, the city opened the area to development, and the rapid construction of housing followed, transforming the area into typical Philadelphia neighborhoods of row homes, recreation centers and schools. 1989 saw the opening of the Franklin Mills Mall, the largest privately financed project in city history.
The Katharine Drexel branch of the Free Library opened its doors on September 24, 1969. There were so many requests for books and information that it was impossible to count them accurately.
The branch was dedicated in November of that same year to Mary Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order devoted to the education of African American and Native American children. Mother Drexel was named a saint of the Roman Catholic Church on October 1, 2000. Look for her portrait in the entrance of the branch.
Also look for the teakwood sculpture, The Reading Bench by Evelyn Keyser. In a tribute to the Free Library’s commitment to literacy, this work depicts a mother and child reading together.
The library was renovated in 2000 as part of the "Changing Lives" campaign, which refurbished branches and brought Internet service to every library.