Bentleyville Tour of Lights
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Bentleyville is a free light display in Duluth, Minnesota. It is a non-profit organization open every day from mid-November through December 26, from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm on weekdays, and 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. It takes at least half an hour to walk through, depending on the weather, and complimentary hot cocoa, cookies, popcorn and marshmallows are available to all guests. There are 15 different fire pits that you can stop at to warm up about halfway through the lights. Kids are also able to stop and visit Santa through December 23; children aged 10 and under receive a new knit hat and bag of cookies.
Bentleyville is also the official drop off site for new unwrapped toys and nonperishable food items for the Salvation Army. Food and toys donated at Bentleyville are distributed to 7 communities: Duluth, Cloquet, Virginia, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, International Falls, MN and Superior, WI.
Nathan Bentley first decorated his home with lights in Esko, Minnesota in 2001. He added more and more lights for the next two years to make his display bigger every year, eventually Bentley's house was known as "the house with all of the lights in Esko." By 2003, Bentley transformed his house from a drive by to a walk through, with Santa visiting on the weekends. One of Bentley's friends eventually started referring to his house as Bentleyville (a play on words from Dr. Seuss's "Whoville"). Bentleyville "Tour of lights" was born. In 2004, the Bentleys moved from Esko to Cloquet, Minnesota. To get people and the usual visitors to come out to see it, Bentley built a larger and brighter display. He built a 78' x 24' entrance made with 45,000 lights to greet people. There were over 500 lit-up snowflakes hung from trees all over his property; dozens of displays were created and many were added every year. School groups and community musicians were added to add live entertainment. Fire pits were put in for visitors to gather around, warm up and roast marshmallows. Santa starting showing up every night as a permanent guest. Kids who came to visit Santa got a free winter hat and a bag of cookies. Eventually a building was constructed, where inside, free cookies, coffee and apple cider were offered. This became known as "The Cookie House". The "Popcorn House" was added soon after for visitors to enjoy free popcorn while walking through the lights.
Move to Duluth
The popularity of Bentleyville grew and so did the traffic. The Bentleys lived on a dead-end country road so there wasn't much room to park. After two years and 35,000 visitors, Bentley decided he needed to build parking lots in fields nearby with buses bringing the visitors to the entrance. In 2008, with 5 years of hosting Bentleyville at his houses, Bentley took a year off to think about how everything was working and to make it better. In the fall, the Duluth City Mayor, Don Ness, called Bentley asking if he would bring Bentleyville to Bayfront Park in Duluth, Minnesota for a year trial. Ness thought Bayfront Park was a perfect fit for Bentleyville. Bentley asked his original team members to organize the Christmas light show. He needed 600 volunteers and 10 weeks to help set up.
On Friday, November 27, 2009 Bentleyville turned on its millions of lights for thousands of visitors for the first time in Bayfront Park. There was over 150,000 visitors that came to enjoy the sounds and lights of winter.
On January 8, 2010 Bentleyville announced that it had decided to return to Bayfront Park for the next three years. Those three years helped with a lot of expansion in Bentleyville with adding the famous 128 foot lit up, animated tree as the main piece, right in the center of Bentleyville. Every year more and more displays were added, in 2011 Dino Land, a gift shop, more light tunnels, heaters in the line for Santa Claus, and a new home for Mrs. Claus was added. In 2012, Santa skydived into Bentleyville on opening night, visitors welcomed Thomas the Tank Engine in the displays, and the attendance made it to over 206,000 people.
- Jack Nissen (2018-11-14). "Duluth traditions return: Bentleyville Tour of Lights and the Christmas City of the North Parade". Duluth News Tribune. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
- Bill Poteat (2018-12-04). "McAdenville trailing in national lights contest". Gaston Gazette. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
- "Bentleyville "Tour of Lights"". Bentleyville USA. Retrieved 2 November 2015.