One thing about the holidays that almost everyone loves is lights. There are entire shows, prizes, and contests devoted to the best light displays. Titusville and the surrounding area features scores of houses with amazing displays. Today, we will think about two of them – one from Christmas past and one from Christmas present.
The Millers’ Light Display in Hydetown attracted people from all over Northwestern Pennsylvania. The display was run by Charles and Thelma Miller. They started it in December 1953 with the decoration of a single pine in the backyard. In 1955, the Millers bought Santa and his reindeer and enjoyed their decoration so much they added more lights across the property. The display at its peak covered 1.5 acres with multiple holiday scenes of Christmas joy.
People entered the display from Water Street and exited on Bank Street. Along with their son Ed’s and daughter Donna Sterling’s family, the display was assembled each year. The display was built on illusions, new tricks, and new pieces for people to enjoy every year. The enormous configuration took three weeks to set up and maintenance was continued on broken and chipped pieces year-round. The Millers even had speakers that played Christmas music. Even in frigid temperatures, people would roll down their windows to get into the Christmas spirit. It was lit up weekdays from 5-10pm, weekends 5-11pm, until 2am on Christmas Day, and closed for the season at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
In 1977, a fire ripped through the Millers’ storage and destroyed most of the decorations. A few of Santa’s reindeer were saved, but the rest of the display had to be rebuilt from scratch. Undaunted, they reconstructed the display and by 1981 it featured seven scenes including a traditional handpainted creche (which originally belonged to Thelma’s father, Edward, who received it from his mother in 1939), Santa’s workshop and elves, three trees, and a picture window with figures trimming a tree. The Titusville Herald described it as a “veritable Broadway of lights.”
After Charles Miller, proprietor of Thompson’s Drug Store, died on December 4, 1979, Thelma and the family continued to run the display as a memorial to his memory. Ed passed away in 1998 and Thelma in 2002. Officially, Millers’ Light Display ran for thirty-three years, from 1953 to 1986.
Another light display that delights visitors still today is the Holiday Lights at Burgess. This spectacular display was started in 2004 by Titusville Leisure Services and the Take Pride in Titusville Committee. The first year, it ran from November 26 to January 1 from 6-9pm each night.
In 2005, some lights were donated by Carol McFadden of Plumer, also known as the “earring lady.” The McFaddens held their own light display for about twenty years. After her husband passed away, McFadden could no longer keep up with the extensive display. She decided to donate the lights in memory of her husband, Jack.
Fourteen years later, the island in the pond continues to be specially decorated with Santa and his reindeer. New pieces are added every year and it continues to be one of the largest drive thru light displays in Northwestern Pennsylvania with around 10,000 people visiting each year.
Lights have the unique power of making Christmas pure magic, and we are lucky to have so many twinkling in our little corner of Pennsylvania to light up our lives each season.
2 thoughts on “Lights of Christmas Past & Present: Millers’ Display & Burgess Park”
A very interesting story with facts that I never knew, even being a part of the family since the middle 80’s. Thanks!!! Love Dad
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Good to read about one family’s involvement in Christmas lights of the past for the community to enjoy. Each year the Take Pride in Titusville group meets once a month to reflect on their past displays, order new lights and to plan what’s needed for the next Christmas. This year (2018) new displays were set up to fill the park; the costs are all paid for with donations. [Portion removed at the request of Take Pride in Titusville for privacy] we want to thank all who generously donated to make this happen. Now in the months of November and December, Santa Claus visits on Friday and Saturday. There are added attractions each weekend as well: Christmas characters, Sled dogs, ice carving sculptures and reindeer visit many people in Burgess Park to share Christmas joy. Take Pride also purchases and hangs the Christmas lights in the downtown area of Titusville with the help of Armstrong and their bucket trucks. Be sure to visit Burgess Park between 6-9:00 PM each night and drive through the downtown area to see and enjoy all the lights that it takes a year of planning to accomplish. Anyone wishing to help is welcome to join.Thank you again for the generosity of people’s donations.
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