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Elgin Lights continue to spread holiday cheer

Posted: December 18, 2014 4:48 p.m.
Updated: December 19, 2014 1:00 a.m.
Tenell Felder/C-I

Paul and Sarah Towns are pictured in front of a display in their John Deere Building. The building is one of five displays for Elgin Lights guests to enjoy.

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Light displays, hayrides, toy trains, tractors, a running steam engine and even a visit from Santa are just a fraction of what guests will experience if they visit Elgin Lights. For nearly 20 years, Paul Towns, his family and friends have hosted the free Christmas event.

“This is our 17th year that we have done Elgin Lights. It’s a free Christmas display and our motto that we just adopted this year is that we are more than just lights,” Towns said. “Most places you visit, you get to see a lot of lights and trees lit up, but you don’t see anything else. Well, we have a whole lot more than just lights, this is like a museum and you can actually learn history.”

Towns does not charge for any of the attractions at Elgin Lights; he and his family pay for the electric bill and other expenses.

“Everything is totally free. We want to make sure that families that can’t afford to go to big shows can still come out here and do all of this. We don’t expect anything,” Towns said

Instead, visitors can leave a donation, 100 percent of which will be given to send a local child to Camp Chemo. Last year, the Towns were able to send 14 children to the camp with money raised from the Christmas display. Towns came up with the idea after being diagnosed with cancer in 2004.

“In 2004, Cole Sawyer passed away in November from cancer. At that time, I got sick and we found out that I had cancer. So I said, ‘You know what? Cole was from this area and he raised money to send other kids to camp. We are going to keep Cole’s dream alive.’ So we send kids to camp in his name,” Towns said

About 40,000 lights make up the light displays in Elgin Lights, though Towns thinks it might be more.

“We quit counting. We estimate our lights by how many strands we put out,” Towns said.

Because of Paul’s illness, family, neighbors and friends have pitched in to help

One of Paul’s daughters, Christina Churchwell, is now in charge of putting up most of the light displays. Towns helps her determine what needs to be done for each display.

“My dad helps me out a lot by directing. He can’t do a lot of things physically, but he can tell me where everything needs to go. He’s the brains behind this; we have thousands of feet of electrical wiring and lights that have to be organized.” Churchwell said.

Churchwell said the lights are organized by different themes, including a section honoring Breast Cancer survivors, one in memory of Cole Sawyer, a military salute section, a nativity scene and even a section of Santa at a carnival.

“We also have a cartoon section with Elmo, Cookie Monster, Hello Kitty, Snoopy and Woodstock. We have a puny tree that won’t bloom or do anything, so we used that as Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree,” Churchwell said.

One display features 10,000 lights of six colors synchronized to music. Churchwell said the display took her two weeks to put together.

In addition to the lights, there are different buildings in which to explore antique toys, train displays, John Deere tractors, and motorcycles built by Towns.

“We have five different buildings for people to go inside. This one we call the North Pole and it is full of toy trains, tractors, antiques … a little bit of everything,” Towns said.

The John Deere building houses John Deere tractors, magazine covers from 1920 farming magazines and a 1930s workbench. Outside, there is a blacksmith workshop where one of Paul’s sons, Paul Jr., demonstrates how to forge various items from steel. There’s also a genuine 1909 running steam engine Paul’s son, Anthony, runs, educating guests on its history.

“This is a family project. Without the help of neighbors and friends, we would never make it. We have a lot of friends who help us out to run the show. Every year, we add something new,” Towns said. “All I do with my life now that this cancer is going on, I do to help kids (who have cancer).”

Elgin Lights runs through Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Towns’ home, 2433 Charlie Horse Circle, Elgin. For information, call 408-0131.

“If people have family come down after Christmas, if they give us a call, we will get a few families and organize a day after Christmas where we will open and turn on all of the stuff just for that group,” Towns said.

The Towns encourage everyone to come out to see Elgin Lights.

 “Pictures don’t do it justice, you have to see it for yourself” Paul’s wife, Sarah Towns said.

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