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This 2018 season marks the 15th Anniversary of Bentleyville “Tour of Lights”, the past 10 years of which have been right here in Bayfront Festival Park. The first 5 years were at Mr. Bentley’s homes in Esko and Cloquet, MN.

In 2001 Nathan Bentley first started decorating his home in Esko, MN for the Christmas season. For the next two years he continually added more lights to create a larger holiday light display; his home quickly became known as the “House with all of the lights in Esko.” In 2003 Nathan changed his light display from a “drive by” to a “walkthrough” with Santa Claus visiting on weekends.

Since Nathan was going overboard a friend sarcastically started to call it Bentleyville (referencing Dr. Seuss’s town of Whoville). The name caught on with visitors and “Bentleyville Tour of Lights” was born.

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 “Bentleyville” came a whole new vision for Nathan. To entice people to drive out into the country a larger and grander Christmas light display was being built. A 78′ x 24′ 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 with new ones added each year. 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 “Cookie House” 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 were started to collect items for the Salvation Army in Carlton County.

As the popularity of Bentleyville grew quickly so did traffic problems with the very limited parking available on a dead-end country dirt road. The neighbors soon began to express their concerns that something needed to be done about the increased traffic congestion. After just two years and an estimated 35,000 people visiting, Nathan decided the only way to solve the traffic concerns was to build parking lots in nearby horse fields owned by area neighbors. Visitors would be bused in by hiring nine 72 passenger school buses to transport visitors from two parking fields to the entrance of Bentleyville. After just 5 years of hosting Bentleyville at his residences and transporting over 72,000 people by school bus, in 2008 Nathan thought it was a good time to take a year off and re-think how everything was working.

In the fall of 2008 Nathan received a phone call from then Duluth City Mayor Don Ness’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. For the next year planning for the large undertaking of moving Bentleyville to a venue 4 times the size of his residence was underway. Nathan selected a Board of Directors, formed a 501c3 nonprofit organization, and asked his original Bentleyville team of 25 people to help organize and plan for a Christmas light show.

The excitement of Bentleyville moving to Bayfront Park grew and so did the support of area businesses that wanted the light show in Duluth in hopes of drawing people downtown in the cold and snowy months of November and December. 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.

With the success and growing popularity, Bentleyville each year invests $150,000 adding additional tunnels, fresh new light displays, new photo opportunities and new and exciting ways to captivate those that have made Bentleyville their holiday tradition. Santa and Mrs. Claus now skydive in on opening night and fireworks mark the final night of each season.

Bentleyville has gone from a 2-month hobby to a year-round organization which involves planning, repairing, purchasing, fundraising and organizing now one of Minnesota’s largest events. Nathan Bentley still has his pulse on every decision, working every set up day, every meeting and is at Bentleyville every night from lights on to lights off. He is here right now strolling the park. You may see him in his red staff coat and signature red ball cap that says “Mayor Bentley”.

Attendance in 2017 surpassed 330,000 people strolling through the whimsical light display requiring new parking infrastructure and ways to transport the growing crowds. We are now operating 4 parking lots and as many as 12 buses transport our guests on busy nights.

Food and toys are collected each night here supporting the Salvation Army for the communities of Duluth, Cloquet, Hibbing, Grand Rapids, Virginia, International Falls, MN and Superior, WI.

Thank you for your support!


Greg Hayden


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