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 in 2003 “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 and new ones added each year. Live entertainment was added featuring area school groups and community musicians. 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 was 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 bussed in by hiring nine 72-passenger school buses to transport visitors from two parking fields to the entrance of Bentleyville.