This area of south Philadelphia was mainly small farms until the mid-1800's. Broad Street was named by William Penn, who described it as "a Broad Street in the middle of the city, from side to side" between the rivers. It ran from Vine to South (then Cedar) Streets, since they were the original boundaries of the city. In 1819, the street went as far south as Dickinson. By the middle of the 19th century, it was extended to the navy yard.
The original South Philadelphia Branch was located at Broad and Ritner Streets in a T-shaped Carnegie building that opened on November 24, 1914. In 1965, the building was closed and the South Philadelphia Branch reopened at its current location on May 3, 1965 in a new building at Broad and Morris Streets.
The library was designed by architects Nolen, Swinburne and Associates. It features a number of unique features, including a wood sculpture entitled Rhythm #1 (1965) by Wharton Esherick, a 2002 mural of a circus by local artist James Dupree, and a copy of the bronze statue of David by 15th-century Italian sculptor Andrea Del Verocchio. The city of Florence, Italy presented the statue to the city of Philadelphia on October 11, 1964 in celebration of the naming of Florence and Philadelphia as sister cities.
South Philadelphia Branch was renovated in 2000 as part of the "Changing Lives" campaign, which brought Internet service to every library.