The Vincentown community has had some form of a lending library since 1867. At one point it was kept by schoolmaster Mr. Herbert on Plum Street and later at various locations by the local women’s club. Our tradition of a community library is one of the oldest in Burlington County.
The current library building was built at the site of the old sawmill on Race Street in 1923. It is a memorial to Sally Stretch Irick Keen, a beloved Vincentown resident, by her daughter, Mary Irick Drexel. They were of the wealthy and influential Irick family, whose contributions to the community included the bank, railroad, waterworks and mills. Mary was raised as a lady of means and was educated accordingly. In 1891 she wed George W Childs Drexel, the youngest son of millionaire banker, philanthropist and founder of Drexel University, A.J Drexel. The couple lived an extraordinary life in Philadelphia society and were very involved in practical philanthropy.
Mr and Mrs George W. Child’s Drexel
Our building was designed by influential architects Stewardson and Page of Philadelphia following the library tradition of steps leading up to the entry door, representing the elevation of man through learning and a light at the doorway, representing enlightenment of the mind. It was built in the Georgian Revival style with a large interior reading room for the use of the public. Mrs. Drexel oversaw the details herself. The cost of the building was just under $20,000.00.
Original library blueprints
The building was dedicated and given to the community with much ceremony on June 18th, 1923. The mission of the library was and still is to aid and encourage the reading of good literature and the promotion of the general education of the residents of the township and surrounding area. At the time of the dedication, the library had a collection of 504 books. It was open for 6 hours a week and run by a single librarian. The care of the library was turned over to a group of Trustees, made up of town members.
Over the years, the book collection and number of patrons grew dramatically. Prior to the school building their own library in 1964, school children walked to our building weekly for library time. Due to the ever growing number of books and limited space, the collection was split in 1976 and the children’s section was moved next door to the former firehouse to create the Children’s Library. This was in large part due to the effort of a community group, the Friends of the Library, who raised funds and promoted the expansion.
Today, the adult library building houses over 2000 books with circulation of over 20,000 and access to over 100,000 titles through our relationship with the Burlington County Library. We are open 5 days a week with a staff of four. The library is still under the auspices of the Board of Trustees, who all live in our community.
Who were Sally Stretch Keen and Mary Irick Drexel?
Sally Stretch Keen was born Sarah Stretch Eayre, daughter of Thomas Wilkins Eayre and Sarah (Sally) Howell (Stretch) Eayre at Grove Hill Farm in Lumberton, October 29, 1842. She married William Hudson Irick March 10, 1863. The couple made their home at Locust Grove, Vincentown (Landing Street) which was built in 1833. Census details show that W.H. Irick was a master farmer. In 1868, their only child, a daughter, Mary Stretch Irick, was born. In 1872, William Hudson Irick died, leaving his entire estate to Sally. Mary was 6 years old. Three years later, Sally married Charles Joseph Keen of Philadelphia in 1875. They had no children. Charles died March 13, 1904 andis buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
At the time of his death, he resided at 522 N. 18th St. in Philadelphia. Sally died on June 29, 1918 at the age of 76. She is buried next to her first husband at St. Andrew’s Graveyard in Mt. Holly.
Sally Stretch Keen
With regard to Mary Irick Drexel, due to her wealth and fame, much more is known.
She was born Mary Stretch Irick on January 22, 1864. She grew up on the 240 acre farm and estate Locust Grove, just one mile outside of Vincentown. The spirited Mary was educated to be a lady and became a skilled equestrian. She attended Miss Fannie Morrow’s private school in Beverly NJ and completed her education at Patapsco Institute in Ellicott Mills, Maryland. Ladies there were taught courses in botany, chemistry, mathematics, foreign languages and other subjects. Through a classmate, Mary was introduced at a party to George W. Childs Drexel, the youngest son of millionaire A.J. Drexel.
Vincentown resident and historian Joe Laufer wrote the following:
“At age 23 she married on November 18, 1891, George W. Childs Drexel at Trinity Episcopal Church on Mill Street, Vincentown. They were married by the Right Rev. Bishop Scarborough of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey at an 11:00 a.m. ceremony. She wore a double star of diamonds, the gift of Mrs. Anthony Drexel, her mother-in-law. Guests came by train from Philadelphia. Certain permanent alterations (primarily an extension) were made to the sanctuary of the church in advance of the wedding at the request of the family.
The wedding gift to the couple from the groom’s father, millionaire Anthony J. Drexel, was a home at 18th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia. Today, this former Drexel home is the Curtis Institute of Music. It was purchased in 1924 by Mary Louise Curtis Bok (Zimbalist) and along with two other adjoining mansions, was transformed into The Curtis Institute of Music, a unique scholarship school, once attended by Leonard Bernstein, among other great musicians. George was the youngest son of Anthony, and a cousin of St. Katharine Drexel, recently canonized (Oct. 1, 2000) by Pope John Paul II in Rome. The Philadelphia Record announced ‘At the northeast corner of Eighteenth Street (ed. 39th Street then) and Locust Streets, a magnificent 3-story mansion will be built for George and Mary Drexel. The house will cover an area 52 by 52 ft. and will be furnished in the most elaborate manner. The architecture of the house is in keeping with all the buildings erected by the Drexels: plain, massive and roomy. The front resembles the stately Drexel homestead at the south east corner of Thirty-ninth and Walnut streets. The front will be of white marble. The cost will be $45,000.’
The Drexels were notable patrons of the Metropolitan Opera Co., and the Philadelphia Orchestra. They were among the original boxholders in the old Philadelphia Opera House. Mary was outstanding in her war efforts during World War I and later for work as Director of the Philadelphia Red Cross. Later in life, the Drexel’s inherited from George W. Childs (George’s namesake, and business partner of his father, Anthony) a home in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, named Wootton, which is currently St. Aloysius Boys’ School.
Mary never forgot her roots. When she was 55 years old, in 1923 (June 18) she endowed a library named after her mother, Sally Stretch Keen, in her hometown of Vincentown, New Jersey. (Mrs. Strech’s second marriage was to Charles Keen of Philadelphia). In presenting the deed, Mrs. Drexel spoke of the great pleasure it was to give the Library to her hometown that she always remembered with affection. Mr. and Mrs. Drexel gave a large number of books over the years to keep folks interested in reading. Vincentown would be abuzz when Mary and George would come to town in their horse and carriage to visit Mrs. Keen. Often, when they came through town, they’d treat the kids with candy. Girls would dress like boys — since they always seemed to get the candy. Mary Drexel died in 1948 at the age of 80. Her portrait, and that of her mother, Sally Stretch Keen, hang in the Vincentown Library (The Sally Stretch Keen Memorial Library) at the corner of Main Street and Race Street in Vincentown.”