Bentleyville’s 20th Anniversary Season
It’s an exciting time of year. A time many people have been waiting for. Guests from all over the region are flocking to town to take in what’s being called, the hobby that got out of control.
What Nathan Bentley started in his yard in Esko has now transformed Duluth’s winter tourism industry.
This year is the 20th anniversary of what is now called the Bentleyville tour of lights. The largest free walk-through holiday lights display in the entire country.
Tor this party, instead of 20 candles on a cake, there are five million lights shining brightly along the waterfront in Duluth’s bayfront festival park.
This all started in Nathan Bentley’s yard at his home in Esko. Back in those early days Bentley’s yard lights were so popular, people had to park their cars lining highway 33 and Morris Tomas road then get on one of the passenger shuttle busses bringing all the people down the dirt road to his yard to see his lights.
Now the magical city of lights adorns Duluth’s bayfront festival park this time each year, thanks in part to an army of volunteers who begin setting up the extravagana in September.
“It’s just a great feeling that the community comes together with our volunteers and our sponsors and just the support of the entire community and region,” Nathan Bentley said. “Bentleyville is much more than a community event now. It’s a five state area event and it’s great. Volunteers come from all over to help us every year too.”
Two of those volunteers, Margy Fraboni and Jeanne Lindholm help at the Bentleyville store. They told us they love to volunteer and Margy was one of the thousands who remember going to see the lights in Nathan Bentley’s yard back in the day.
And it’s not just the lights. People talk about how much they love the holiday atmosphere of Bentleyville. Whether it’s the staggering amount of hot cocoa, hot coffee and cookies they give away, or the warming fires and smores, meeting Santa and just meeting up with neighbors and friends, it’s a great way to welcome in the holiday season.
Bentleyville has a $1-million annual budget, but it returns an economic impact of $24 million according to UMD’s bureau of business and economic research.
Also special this year, to mark the 20th anniversary, Bentley opened his archive to designer Gary Lundstrom, who curated an historical exhibit that is now on display at the St. Louis Historical Society at the Duluth depot until the new year. The exhibit allows you to travel back in time through two decades of Bentleyville’s decorations, lights, and signs. Even the original Bentleyville sleigh is there. The exhibit is aptly titled, ‘The hobby that got out of control.’
Bentleyville and all it has to offer is free, but people who drive do pay for parking and folks are encouraged to bring food items to be donated to Salvation Army and make donations for the tour of lights to keep the lights on.
The Bentleyville tour of lights is open nightly through December 26th.