The Satariano family knows the secret to having an unbelievably terrific year. All it takes is 31 years, 4 million Christmas lights and some elbow grease.
Just a 20-minute scenic drive from downtown Dayton is the even more scenic Clifton Mill, one of the largest water-powered grist mills still in existence.
It even predates the state of Ohio itself and now is the picturesque setting of one of Dayton's most cherished holiday traditions, The Legendary Lights of Historic Clifton Mill.
In 1987, Anthony Satariano was 25 years old when his parents, Anthony Sr. and “Mrs. S,” purchased the Mill.
“One of the first things we decided as a family is when we purchased the Mill, we were walking around and thinking about how old and traditional and amazing it is to be the keeper of a piece of history,” Satariano said. “My father then says to us, ‘Let’s decorate this and put some lights on it.’ We bought 100,000 lights, thinking we had enough to last forever, and knew next to little about electricity. We truly did it just for ourselves, our family.”
Those first 100,000 lights might have been for their eyes only, though it didn’t take long for neighbors to flock and soon after, the entire city of Dayton. Fast-forward 31 years, and the Mill is co-owned by Mrs. S, Anthony and his son. General Manager Jessica Noes also plays a huge role at the Mill, starting out as a server for Clifton Mill 21 years ago.
Through sickness, obstacles, learning curves and even death, Anthony and his family have continued to grow the Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill. The display is in the running for best Christmas lights in the country in the USA TODAY 10BEST competition and on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m., Clifton Mill will be featured on ABC TV's "The Great Christmas Light Fight."
Anthony Satariano is our Daytonian of the Week.
🎄I understand Clifton Mill has been owned by families before your own. What's that history? What are some of your earliest memories of the Mill?
“The Clifton Mill was first built in 1802 and there have been several families that have owned the mill. That is before Ohio was even a state by the way, 1803. We are one of the rookie families having purchased the mill in 1987. So the mill has seen a lot of history. Most of the men in the Clifton area came to the mill to get some supplies before they marched off to the Civil War. My father had always loved mills, and we almost bought one out of state, but decided that we would stay in the Miami Valley and never looked back.”
🎄On a scale of 1 to 10, how big of Christmas season fans are you and your family? 🎅🏼
“My sisters and I grew up knowing nothing but celebrating the holidays and especially Christmas. My parents would put up two or three trees every year and decorate the whole house. My mom started collecting Santas when I was born. I am the oldest and continue to this day to keep adding to the collection — 56 years and counting and about 3,600 Santas. We have had to add to the building three times just to create enough room to display them. It was a tradition for my parents to load us all in the car and head to see the department store window displays at Beerman’s and Rike’s. So I would say on a scale of 1 to 10, we are a solid 10 when it comes to holiday spirit.”
🎄You have had such an incredible year at the Mill! What has all this national attention meant to you and your team at Clifton Mill?
“The recognition we have received this year is such a great compliment to our family and friends who have put so much time and care into helping us build and maintain this traditional display. Honestly it means as much for us to say we are a 31-year holiday tradition here in the Dayton-area as it does for the national recognition. The biggest thrill is to be able to share our display with everyone in the area and know that there are now generations of family who have made this part of their Miami Valley holiday tradition. To see their faces to talk to them and shake their hands as they thank us for being a part of their holidays means more than words can express.”
🎄What do you think makes Clifton Mill Lights different from other Holiday light displays? What has been your favorite part of running the Lights of Clifton Mill?
“Hard to put a finger on it, but most people comment and say how the display enhances the natural beauty of the historic mill sitting on cliffs above the Little Miami River. This is something you cannot buy in a store our even build. We are blessed to be the caretakers of such a wonderful place. We have so much to offer in our display that it feels like a display within a display and in a concentrated area. If you can walk around a football field, you can see it all. The 4 million lights, the covered bridge light show, Santa in his workshop with his sleigh and eight life-like reindeer, the toy collection, the Santa collection and the animated miniature village with several trains going through a handmade replica of our town. My father always said it was reminiscent of the windows at Beerman’s.
One of our favorite things about the display is sharing it and what we look forward to is having Dayton Children’s Hospital send us a couple of their ambassadors to be our special VIP guests and get to turn on the 4 million lights and have a visit with the big man in red. We do this as our way to say thank you to Children’s for what they have done for our family, as well as the Dayton-area. Cancer, unfortunately, has touched our family as well in so many ways. My mom is a breast cancer survivor, my wife is a breast cancer survivor and my father, the Christmas Light Man, passed away in 2008 from pancreatic cancer. That almost put an end to the display. But as a family, we decided to keep my father’s dream alive and keep the display not only going, but growing.”
🎄What is one thing people might not know about the Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill?
“It is hard to say, but we do get several questions asked a lot. ‘How many people does it take?’ Five to six just for the outside. Yes, we put 90 percent of it up every year. And yes, it truly is a labor of love and pride. It’s why we keep doing it and sharing it every year.”
🎄Specifically what area of the Dayton-area do you and your family live? How do you feel about calling Dayton home?
“We love being in the Dayton area. Clifton is maybe 15 to 20 minutes from Dayton. We are Dayton Dragons season ticket holders and love how downtown has seen a rebirth with so many nice restaurants, bars, breweries and shops.”
🎄Do you know Santa Claus personally? 😉
“Do I know Santa personally? Well a lot of people think so. Rumor is, he comes to Clifton Mill every year.