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Clifton Mill Holiday Light Display Going Strong After Three Decades

For many people across the Miami Valley, the holidays aren’t complete without a visit to the Historic Clifton Mill light-show. Clifton Mill’s annual Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill event attracts thousands of visitors to the tiny town of Clifton, south of Springfield. And this year, it included an appearance by Republican Attorney General and Governor-Elect Mike DeWine. 

The weather was beautiful for Clifton Mill’s opening night, held this year on the day after Thanksgiving.

People of all ages waited shoulder to shoulder outside in the darkness for that first dramatic illumination of the Historic Mill.

A 200-year-old covered wooden bridge leads from the parking lot to the mill grounds. Scattered around the property are Santa’s workshops, complete with eight taxidermied deer on the rooftop pulling a sleigh.

The building also contains a vintage Santa Claus-figure collection, and an outdoor train display circling a miniature town featuring local landmarks.

This year the mill invited a special guest to kick off the opening of the 2018 holiday light display.

It was Republican Attorney General and Governor-Elect Mike DeWine, who defeated Democratic opponent Richard Cordray in November.

The crowd chanted DeWine's name as the show got underway, accompanied by a dull thud and the sound of a distant car horn.

Out on State Route 72, which runs along the mill’s property, one motorist had apparently rear-ended another. So, the entire show was accompanied by the car’s stuck horn.

Luckily the light show repeats every hour, and although it was mildly annoying, the noise didn’t seem to ruin the experience for the crowd.

Many people commented on the display: 

"We used to come here when I was a little kid and this is her first time here. Findley, what did you think of the light show?"

"It was good."

"It’s breathtaking actually. They’re so gorgeous. It’s, wow!"

It takes a crew three months to decorate the mill site's buildings and grounds.

Perhaps among the most dramatic part of the display are the thousands of individual strands of red lights that cascade down the gorge.

"They [crew members] repel and hand lay the lights down the gorge bank. They actually touch every strand of lights. These are all individual strands. It’s very breathtaking," says general manager Jessica Noes.

She’s been working at Clifton Mill for 22 years.

“One of my favorite parts is the covered-bridge light show. It happens every hour on the hour. We turn off all four million lights and we turn on the covered bridge light show and the lights actually dance to music,” she says.

The Mill’s holiday light display is being featured in season six of ABC television reality program The Great Christmas Light Fight, which includes a “heavyweight” division this year.

The segment for the reality show was filmed last year at Clifton Mill, but staff and nearby residents were sworn to secrecy until this year’s announcement.

But, two weeks before the filming, the area was hit with heavy rains that caused the Clifton Gorge to flood, taking out all the lights in the ravine.

The staff scrambled to replace two months worth of work in just 14 days.

"Seeing how many people came to help us get the lights back up in order, whether or not it was old employees, new employees that have other jobs that just usually help at Christmas, I mean, how many customers that even called to see if there was help they could do. We are a little, local Miami Valley tradition here for people," she says.  

The light display draws hundreds of visitors every night from all over the tri-state area, running every night through New Year’s Eve. 

Renee Wilde tumbled into public radio - following a career path that has been full of creative adventures and community service. After graduating from the Ohio State University with a fine arts degree in photography - she served as the Exhibitions Coordinator for several Columbus art galleries and the Columbus Art League, while simultaneously slinging food and booze - memorably dropping a glass of orange juice on Johnny Rotten’s bare feet when he answered the hotel room door in just his skivvies (his response, “would shit be the appropriate word?”).