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Burned out house belonged to Red Flannel Factory owner

By Judy Reed

This photo shows the house at First and Maple immediately after the fire was put out. The Cedar Springs Post is on the right. Post photo by J. Reed.

Last week we asked if anyone had any history of the house at 40 E. Maple that was destroyed by fire in the early hours of February 7. As it turned out, we got a small, but significant piece of information.

According to Deb (Riggle) Gates, sister of former Post editor Terri Riggle, and daughter of Janet and Howard (Slim) Riggle (a former city manager), she grew up on the northeast corner of Maple and First, opposite from the home.

“A lady by the name of Vivian, (Sally) Wall lived there,” recalled Deb. “She was the one who established the Francis Lee Red Flannel Factory in the building which now houses the Cedar Post.”

Deb said it was a large, elegant, house with six bedrooms, and a front door that was on an angle at the corner of the house and faced northeast. “She also had a nice porch on the side,” she said.

Both families appear to have moved there in the early 1950s. Deb’s house sat where the parking lot of The Springs Church is now. She said others who lived nearby included the Newlands, who owned the home across the street on the southeast corner of Maple and First; Bert Lewis, who lived east of the Riggles; the Watsons; and Millard Engberg, a former publisher of the Cedar Springs Clipper.

According to the Cedar Springs Story, by Sue Harrison and Donna DeJonge, Sally and her husband, Francis Lee Wall, bought the large home in 1954. She had taken over sewing Red Flannels in 1952 from Mae Oppenneer, who had done it for three years. Sally used the six rooms upstairs in her new home for the shop. Five years later, she and her husband remodeled a barn, located adjacent to the home at 36 E. Maple Street, and called it the Francis Lee Red Flannel Factory. Finished garments were displayed in a showroom up front, and a cutting room was located upstairs. That building is now the home of the Cedar Springs Post.

This shows the Post when it was the Francis Lee Red Flannel Factory, owned and operated by Sally Wall from 1959-1971. Photo from the Cedar Springs Story.

“This place was always busy,” remembered Deb. “Especially on Red Flannel Day. And I remember taking tours of it with other kids.”

The Walls retired in 1971, and sold the business to another group called Cedar Springs Red Flannels. They operated the factory out of 36 E. Maple for two more years before moving to 73 Main Street.

The Wall home at 40 E. Maple was converted to apartments sometime later.

The apartment house property was separated from the Cedar Springs Post property by a chain link fence, but the buildings were in close proximity. Many residents have commented that it was a miracle our building didn’t catch fire as well. “I’m glad we didn’t burn down,” remarked Post publisher Lois Allen.

We thank the Cedar Springs Police Fire Department for doing an outstanding job of controlling and containing the fire. The cause was not determined.

A vacant lot now sits where the old home was, ready to play another part in the history of Cedar Springs.

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