Sunday, December 25, 2011

"The Legendary Lights at Clifton Mill"

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

The original mill in Clifton, Ohio was built in 1802 on the Little Miami River. The current mill is seven stories tall and the grounds now include a covered bridge and historic gas station. At Christmas, there is also a miniature village set up with amazing detail. Trains run around the village, and you can see movie clips playing on the outdoor theater’s screen.

Anthony Satariano Sr., and his son Anthony Jr. bought the mill in 1988. They consulted with mill experts and made improvements to the old mill including repairing floors and walls and reinstalling the original grinding stones. They also installed a replica of the original waterwheel and added the covered porch that now overlooks the waterfall that spills down the hillside into the Little Miami River.

As Christmas approached that first year, they draped 100,000 lights on the cliffs along the river and on the mill. They expected a few hundred visitors at most to come to see the mill, but instead, thousands came.

As the years passed, they added more and more lights. Now they are up to 3.5 million lights which take six men the better part of three months to put up.

In 2004, I stumbled on pictures of the Christmas lights at the mill. Of course, I shared the photos with Joann, and we decided that we had to make a trip to see them. Since the lights are up from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day, we made plans to go in early December. We crossed our fingers that the weather would be good for our drive.

The universe was with us and the weather was good. We wanted to be at the mill before the gates opened, and we did manage to get there early and get parked and then walked to the gate. Mr. Satariano Sr. was in the ticket booth at the gate and we struck up a conversation.

He asked where we had come from and we told him Wisconsin. He then asked us what brought us to Ohio. When we told him his mill did, he laughed and then asked us, “Seriously, what brings you to Ohio?” Again we told him it was just to see his mill. He seemed impressed that we would come so far.

At 5:00 pm the gates opened and we walked inside in search of the best place to view the mill and the gorge for the lights. Between 5:00 and 6:00 pm, there are a few lights on around the mill. Several minutes before 6:00 pm, all of the lights go out leaving everyone in total darkness. Then music begins and the lights on the covered bridge begin to twinkle to the music. As the music ends, all of the lights go out again. Then suddenly, all 3.5 million lights come on all at once, and you can hear the exclamations of awe from the crowd.

Every hour the mill is plunged into total darkness and the scene is replayed. Even if you were there for the prior hours lighting, you are amazed all over again when the 3.5 million lights come on all at once.

It is beautiful and magical. The view down the back of the mill along the gorge is amazing.
The lights are not on during rain or inclement weather and, this year, the mill was dark for several days after heavy rain damaged some of the lights along the gorge. They were quickly replaced and the light show was back on.

We are very happy that we got to meet and chat with Anthony Sr. on our visit. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008. We look forward to a return trip someday, so we are most grateful that his son, and partner in the mill, Anthony Jr., has continued this Christmas tradition.

“You cannot own history; you can only be the caretaker.” – Anthony Satariano Sr.

Merry Christmas and Happy Shunpiking!

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