Newsmaker: A little innovation brings a new tradition to the Northland: BentleyvilleHave you gone to see that “house with all the lights?” You know the one with the mega-display of holiday lights on Crosby Road in Cloquet? Well, if you haven’t yet, you won’t need to, because this year it’s coming to you.
By: Lana Leeper, Living North, Living North
Have you gone to see that “house with all the lights?” You know the one with the mega-display of holiday lights on Crosby Road in Cloquet? Well, if you haven’t yet, you won’t need to, because this year it’s coming to you.
This holiday season marks the eighth year of Bentleyville Tour of Lights, otherwise known as the “house with the all lights.” It promises to be the biggest display yet as it’s being held at Bayfront Festival Park in
With more than 200,000 projected visitors, this year’s Bentleyville will be the longest-running event the city has ever hosted. Bentleyville will be open, free of charge, from 5 to 10 p.m. every day from Nov. 27 to Jan. 2. If all goes well, it could be the first of many years that Bentleyville makes its home at Bayfront. The increased activity brings the possibility
of more tourism for the city and a reason for people to visit the
Twin Ports area outside of the summer season.
Bentleyville started in 2001 in Esko when Nathan Bentley, owner of Advantage Emblem Inc. in Hermantown, armed himself with a few extra strings of holiday lights. He decided he wanted to do something for the community and decorated his yard for the season he loves.
He added holiday lights and light-up seasonal yard decorations every year, and when Bentley ran out of room in his front yard, he expanded the show to the backyard, encouraging guests to round the corner to meet Santa Claus in his sleigh.
In 2004 Bentley moved the display from Esko to three acres in rural Cloquet and the “house with all the lights” officially got its name — Bentleyville. A 78-by-24-foot castle of lights was built and erected that year, marking the entrance to the wonderland. The enchanted holiday land also included lighted tunnels, hundreds of lighted snowflakes and 200 lighted deer.
Bentley advertised his light extravaganza that first year in Cloquet and
tens of thousands of people flocked to Bentleyville. Every year the number of visitors had more than doubled.
Although Bentleyville was located on Bentley’s personal property at the
end of a dead-end road, traffic and parking fast became a nuisance. Some
people were upset by the hassle.
“By the second year our volume of people had grown to 30,000 to 40,000
people, and the congestion on the road was so bad that after Bentleyville was over that second season the neighbors had put together a petition to shut down Bentleyville because there just was not room for all these cars,” Bentley recalled.
Bentley was allowed to use some land owned by neighbors and he arranged to have buses shuttle the visitors from the lots. Cloquet Transit kept
more than half a dozen 72-passenger buses constantly circulating from the
Bentleyville grounds to the parking lots, arriving and departing every five to seven minutes. Problem solved.
The Bentleyville experience was designed to start the moment of arrival at
the decorated lots. Fire pits were set up to keep guests warm as they waited for their buses. Sightseers were dropped off at the entrance where food collections were taken for the Salvation Army, and upon arrival they were greeted with a flood of lights, live entertainment and complimentary snacks.
Along the handicap-accessible paved path was a 20-by-24-foot “cookie
house” where visitors received free cookies, coffee and apple cider.
Marshmallows for roasting were set up by the fire pits, and every child who
met with Santa got a knit hat.
But after seven years of hard work, with the help of many volunteers and
family members, Bentley decided to take a year off. Expenses were mounting
and he was ready to regroup. Bentleyville had grown from a dream of sharing
the holiday spirit to the reality of nearly 100,000 guests per year.
During that year off, Bentley received a phone call from the Duluth
mayor’s office asking him to move Bentleyville to Bayfront Festival Park. The city promised to pay for electricity, but Bentley and his volunteers would be responsible for everything else. Bentley agreed to the move.
“For the last year now we’ve been expanding Bentleyville with our plans
because Bentleyville will now be three to four times the size of what it was at my home,” said Bentley. There will be new displays that include Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. Live entertainment will be performed throughout the park and on the main stage, and new holiday-themed characters such as Donner, Dancer, Comet — and of course Rudolph — will be there, too.
Visitors will be encouraged to warm up with free coffee and apple cider
and fill up on cookies. Parents should be sure to take their cameras to capture photos of the kids with Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, the reindeer, elves and Frosty and Mrs. Frosty.
And the best part is that it is all still free.
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