Year-round preparation goes into Bentleyville

Photo Credit: Amber Ooley Seven years ago, the Bentleyville Castle, standing 78 feet long and 48 feet tall, was the entrance to Nathan Bentley’s home in Esko, Minn.

The first year he put up the large lighted castle, he drew in 20,000 people to his “House With All the Lights,” named by local radio stations. The display has now grown to be an annual occasion in Bayfront Park in Duluth, Minn., now known as the Bentleyville “Tour of Lights.”

“The set-up of Bentleyville is a year-round project,” said Bentley, event coordinator and the man who started the show.

Starting at the beginning of the year the two boards, the executive board and the operations board, began to meet monthly and discuss the future plans on the upcoming Bentleyville.

Then each summer volunteers sort through and replace every single light bulb.

“The colors like red or green fade after being outside in the sunlight,” Bentley said.

The Bentleyville Castle alone has 45,000 light bulbs on the display.

Last year the new 1,200 foot tree was damaged while in storage. The tree was stored in three separate 40-foot sections, and the top section fell over and needed some repairs before this year’s display. Volunteers were needed to build a new top to the tree throughout the summer months.

Nathan Bentley sets up sign in one of the tunnels. Photo Credit: Amber Ooley

New to Bentleyville this year is Dinosaur Land. Bentley said they tend to have displays relating to Christmas, but it’s a light show and anything with lights should be acceptable.

Also this year, Santa will be dressed in a brand new velvet suit and will be tucked inside a brand new overhaul. Similar to a barn or a woodshop, this structure will keep the children warmer than previous years while waiting to sit on Santa’s lap.

The operations board takes bids and continues to search for the best deals in town on hot chocolate, cookies, and marshmallows, which are complementary to anyone who tours Bentleyville.

The annual hot chocolate bill totals around $9,000 and there are about 250,000 cookies handed out during the 38 days of the “Tour of Lights.”

All the firewood for the 22 bonfire pits used for roasting marshmallows is donated from two local paper mills, Sappi Fine Paper in Cloquet and New Page in Duluth. The wood is then cut, split and stacked by inmates from the Duluth Federal Prison.

Mary Towers, volunteer coordinator, is in charge of many things but primarily holds the duty of organizing the volunteers. Every Saturday, Sunday, or Wednesday as the volunteers arrive, Towers calls to the field and asks where they need assistance.

“It’s fun seeing the enthusiasm of the volunteers,” Towers said.

Once Bentleyville opens, the volunteers bring their friends and family and point to the displays they worked on with a sense of ownership saying “I did that!”

In order to have a successful show they need 60 volunteers to come every night to set-up and to work the event.

“We’re ahead of the game, no need for more volunteers this year,” Towers said.

After the yearlong process of setting up Bentleyville, the tour begins on November 19th and stays lit until December 26th.

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