Northland Uncovered: Bentleyville Grows Over 15 Years

Take a look at the history of Bentleyville.

DULUTH, Minn.- The story of Bentleyville Tour of Lights started long before it became a holiday attraction.

In 2001, Nathan Bentley and his family were inspired to hang lights on their home in Esko after seeing their neighbors do the same.

“The next year I thought I should put up a few more lights and then after the front yard and side yard were filled the next thing I thought was we should go to the back yard and then make a little walk around,” Bentley said. “Somebody in my office thought I was getting a little carried away and started facetiously calling it ‘Bentleyville’ kind of as a little jab.”

When Nathan and his family moved to Cloquet, he wanted to make sure it was worth while for people to drive out to the real–life ‘Whoville’

In 2008, Nathan decided to take a year off after the hype of Bentleyville had him shuttling over 72 thousand people to his family home to see the lights.

“During that year off, at that time mayor Don Ness of Duluth had contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to bring the light show to Bayfront Park,” Bentley said.

And in 2009 the walk through sensation opened at Bayfront.

“We give out 25,000 hats to children, we give away half a million cookies, we go through 15 thousand pounds of hot chocolate, several loads of wood and we have hundreds of thousands of smiles and hopefully happy people making memories,” Bentley said.

Bentleyville has grown into being the largest free walk through Christmas light display in the nation. 10 years at Bayfront has taught Bentley a lot about how to make the experience better…

Including picture opportunities with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The attraction will even be featured on a reality television show in 2019.

“It’s really cool for all of us to know that all the hard work that we do every weekend gets recognized nationally,” Bentley said.

In 2017 Bentleyville hosted over 330 thousand visitors, and Nathan expects to pass those numbers in its 15th year.

Visit Duluth says the attraction will likely bring in over $20 million toward the Duluth economy.

To the people Bentleyville has touched in the past 15 years, Nathan had this to say-

“I’m just happy that people have made it a memory. That they’re coming down and creating those memories here. Bentleyville was never ever ever planned, so for memories to be naturally made here, it’s a cool feeling.”

As for the future of Bentleyville, Nathan says he doesn’t think Bayfront’s size will allow him to expand out anymore, but that doesn’t mean he can’t build up.

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