The Welsh Baby Carriage Company, and its eponymous five-story factory, is a prominent landmark along I-55 in St. Louis. The Welsh Baby Carriage Factory on the south side of downtown no longer bears the company’s name. But the building survives as the Soulard Market Apartments.
The Welsh Baby Carriage factory history
Originally designed by architect Henry E. Roach, it’s unclear when the Welsh Baby Carriage factory came into being. Sources conflict on when it was actually built. Some say as late as 1899, while others say 1875. Others say the building was a Civil War prison, which would date it to the 1860s. An addition was built in 1906. The addition gave it a distinctive “F” shape.
During its history it served as an insane asylum, a shoe factory, baby carriage factory and warehouse, and haunted house. The building’s white smokestack prominently bore the name Welsh Baby Carriages for about six decades.
The Hamilton Brown Shoe Company operated the factory until 1941, when it sold the site to the Welsh Baby Carriage Company. Brown Shoe is now known as Caleres. At its peak, the factory employed 500 workers making baby buggies and toys for young children. In its 1950s advertising, Welsh billed itself as the world’s largest maker of folding baby carriages. Vintage baby carriages made by Welsh turn up in basements and attics all over the country, not just in St. Louis. But Welsh faded over subsequent decades. It stopped manufacturing baby carriages at the site in the mid 1980s.
By 1995, when Welsh closed the factory, the site had dwindled to six employees. The remaining workers simply made metal displays for products made elsewhere. At the time, Welsh still employed 200 other workers in three other factories in smaller towns in the United States. David Welsh, the company president, noted that he couldn’t compete with Chinese labor.
The Welsh Baby Carriage Company wasn’t alone. The nearby Crunden-Martin Manufacturing Company dwindled to a few dozen employees in the 1980s. It went out of business in November 1990.
On August 5,1983, an exterior wall from the building’s west wing collapsed onto nearby Interstate 55 during a severe thunderstorm. The falling debris struck a nearby car that had pulled over to wait out the storm. The accident killed Jean Morrissey, a 22-year-old woman from Alton, Illinois. The driver and a second passenger also sustained injuries. The accident made the national news, gaining coverage in the New York Times.
The building was still functioning as a warehouse and factory at the time. The last shift of the day had ended before the accident, so there were only a few workers inside.
The Welsh Baby Carriage Company rebuilt the collapsed wall and continued to operate the building another 12 years.
Such events are unusual but not unheard of. In 2006, the Switzer Building on Laclede’s Landing sustained damage in a severe thunderstorm and collapsed. Like the Welsh Baby Carriage factory, it was a brick structure that dated to the 1870s.
Repurposing and rebirth
For the later half of the 1990s, The Darkness Haunted Theme Park took up residence in old Welsh Baby Carriage factory. Johnnie Brock’s, a local horror-themed gift shop, used also used two of the floors as a warehouse. The site’s storied past as a Civil War prison and an institution added to its mystique.
However, the site contained hazardous materials and was deteriorating. Not wanting to repeat the 1983 tragedy, St. Louis sought a developer. When the building was a shoe factory, its nickname was “the sunshine factory.” This was due to the number of large windows and geographic positioning to capture sunlight. Welsh had bricked over most of the windows, but this characteristic plus its close proximity to Soulard Market made it an ideal candidate for redevelopment as apartments. The Darkness moved to a 35,000-square foot building next door.
After two prior efforts fell through, Klitzing Welsch Associates Inc redeveloped the old factory into 132 apartments in 2005. The design featured exposed brick and other tributes to the building’s industrial past. Klitzing Welsch received an award for its efforts in 2007.