I no longer look up the chimney of my fireplace, (at least while there is a fire going on) but it is still difficult for me not to think about Santa Claus when the weather turns cooler and the first few snowflakes wisp by my window. November and December just get me in the mood for holidaysâ€¦for family get-togethersâ€¦for increased smiles on the people you meet on the street and at work.
Andâ€¦and this is a BIG ANDâ€¦these two months means holiday decorations will begin popping up on houses and front-yard trees and store windows all over the state andâ€¦well, I just like holiday decorations.
This is also why I look forward to visiting Bentleyville in Duluth.
Okayâ€¦I just heard youâ€¦.whatâ€™s Bentleyville? Well, take a seat, I have a story to tell you.
In 2001 Nathan Bentley first started decorating his home in Esko, Minnesota for the Christmas season. For the next two years he added more lights and his home quickly became known as the â€œHouse with all of the lights in Esko.â€
Two years later Nathan ran out of room in his front yard for Christmas decorations, so he added them to his backyard turning his light display from a â€œdrive byâ€ Christmas light display to a â€œwalk throughâ€ light display. This is the year Santa Claus started to visit on weekends allowing children to visit with him while sitting in his very own life size sleigh.
This is also the year that a friend sarcastically started to call Nathanâ€™s display Bentleyville. The name caught on with visitors and â€œBentleyville Tour of Lightsâ€ was born. This same year live entertainment was added on the weekends played by a local musician.
If you build it, they will come. I know Iâ€™ve heard that somewhere.
Well, come they didâ€¦in droves. So many came that during the summer of 2004, Nathan and his family moved from Esko, MN to rural Cloquet, MN to a larger home for their 4 children. With the new name of â€œBentleyvilleâ€ came a whole new vision for Nathan. To entice people to drive out into the country a larger and grander Christmas light display was built. A 78â€™ x 24â€™ high entrance castle made of 45,000 lights was built to greet visitors. Over 500 illuminated snowflakes hung from trees on his wooded property. Dozens of light displays were created and new ones added each year. Live entertainment was added featuring area school groups and community musicians. Fire pits were added for people to gather around and roast marshmallows. Santa Claus was now a permanent guest every night at Bentleyville visiting with children and handing out a free winter hat and bag of cookies to all the young children visiting with Santa.
A â€œCookie Houseâ€ was built offering free cookies, coffee and apple cider to everyone visiting Bentleyville. All the walking paths were paved allowing it to be fully handicapped accessible. A Popcorn building was built to hand out free popcorn to the people as they strolled through the light show. A food and toy drive was started to collect items for the Salvation Army in Carlton County.
Hmmmm, do I feel a problem coming on?
As the popularity of Bentleyville grew so did traffic problems with the very limited parking available on a dead end country dirt road. This situation did not impress the neighbors. After just two years an estimated 35,000 people visiting Bentleyville. Nathan built parking lots and bussed visitors in by hiring nine 72 passenger school busses.
Four years went by and some 72,000 people a season were pouring in to Bentleyville.
In the fall of 2008 Nathan received a phone call from Duluth City Mayor Don Nessâ€™s Office inviting him to a meeting to discuss an invitation to host Bentleyville Tour of Lights at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth, MN. Nathan thought the new location would be a good fit for Bentleyville and accepted the one year trial invitation.
Nathan asked his original Bentleyville team of 25 people to help organize and plan for a Christmas light show in Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth.
On Friday November 27, 2009 Bentleyville Tour of Lights turned on its millions of lights to thousands of onlookers for the first time at Bayfront Park in downtown Duluth. For the next 6 weeks over 150,000 people visited Bentleyville enjoying the sounds and lights of Christmas.
This year, Bentleyville will be open November 20th â€¦ dailyâ€¦ till December 26, 2010 and, Iâ€™m planning on being first in line.
Happy Holidays !