One of the first properties identified during the survey for the New Mississippi River Bridge project in St. Louis was the Gestring Wagon Factory, a mid-19th to early-20th-century factory located at the northeast corner of N. Broadway and Mound streets. Although the property was identified as potentially significant early on, archaeological testing did not take place until the summer of 2009. At that time, the site was determined to be remarkably intact and historically significant, with the potential to provide unique information on the development of wagon and carriage manufacturing in St. Louis.
The Gestring Wagon Company was founded by Casper Gestring (1833-1903) who had immigrated from Germany in the mid-1850s. Starting as a blacksmith, Gestring soon opened a shop at the northeast corner of N. Broadway and Brooklyn (a block north of the eventual Gestring factory). After shoeing horses for the Union Army, Gestring and his partner Henry Becker opened a wagon shop a block south in 1866. In 1875, Gestring and Becker constructed a larger factory in the southwest corner of the same property. The new building had four stories, plus a black-smith shop in the basement, and employed 35 craftsmen. The company continued to manufacture hand-made farm wagons well into the 20th century, while their closest competitors shifted to the automobile. Finally, in 1935, the Gestring Wagon Company closed its doors, ending the age of the hand-made wagon.
Along with the John C. Kupferle Brass Foundry, the Gestring factory is located on the former location of Big Mound, the northern most member of the St. Louis Mound Group. Written accounts of the mounds date back to the earliest days of St. Louis, but the best account was by Dr. Thomas Say and Titian Peale (members Major Stephen Long’s scientific expedition) in 1819. The two men made a detailed survey of the mounds, producing a map showing the relative size and arrangement of the mounds, including Big Mound. The base of Big Mound measured approximately 319 x 158 feet, with an estimated height of 34 feet (Marshall 1992). The mound survived relatively intact until the 1840s. However, starting in the late-1840s and accelerating over the next two decades, development in this part of St. Louis led to the degradation and eventual destruction of the mound. In 1869, photographs and newspaper accounts document the last remnants of Big Mound being hauled away to be used as fill for the railroads.
Excavation of the Gestring Wagon Factory was conducted in October and November, 2009. The object of the excavation was to study 19th-century industry in St. Louis, and at the same time take an intensive look at the location of Big Mound. Portions of five buildings were excavated: the wagon shop built c. 1866, the factory building built c. 1875, a separate blacksmith shop, a warehouse, and the family residence built c. 1892. Other features associated with these buildings and excavated include three cisterns, a sump, a privy, a refuse burner, and eleven forges. A significant portion of the property was mechanically excavated in an attempt to identify prehistoric, sub-mound features; no evidence of intact prehistoric deposits were found, although a handful of prehistoric artifacts were recovered from inside one of the cisterns. Artifact analysis is currently underway, and a technical report will be made available when completed.
Marshall, John B.
1992 The St. Louis Mound Group: Historical Accounts and Pictorial Depictions. The Missouri Archaeologist 53:43-79.