CLIFTON — Clifton Mill is locally known for its light display around the holiday season. However, it didn’t always include more than three million bulbs that hang around the property, or the gift shop and restaurant with a reputation for its breakfast food. The mill, built in 1802, originally provided electricity to the townspeople who made up Clifton.
“The mill has been here before Ohio was even a state,” Clifton Mill owner Anthony Satariano said. “It has seen the War of 1812, the Civil War, all the great wars.”
The current family are the sixth owners of the mill; they bought it in 1987 after Satariano and his father stopped working for a men’s and women’s fragrance company that was sold out and became larger than they preferred. His father always liked mills, and came close to purchasing in Virginia and Pennsylvania before deciding on the one in Clifton. His father retired and Satariano was tired of living on the road, and they looked forward to running the already-existent gift and snack shop out of the mill. The same year they purchased the property, they began to display the Christmas lights. Starting with 100,000 bulbs, it has expanded, either subtly or in a large manner, each year since.
“Christmas started from my father; he was always big into holidays, but Christmas in particular,” Satariano said. “We bought the mill, we were here one night and my father said ‘lets put some Christmas lights on this. We own this beautiful piece of property, let’s decorate it.’
“He went out and bought 100,000 Christmas lights thinking we’d never have to buy another light again. We knew absolutely nothing about electricity, but we got them up and people started pulling in. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments – we did it strictly for ourselves, but people started saying ‘this is beautiful, thank you for sharing this with us.’ It just grew from there.”
Satariano, along with three-to-four regular individuals and 10 to 12 part-time helpers, hang the lights themselves beginning in September. He said on a good year, the lights are completed by November; he feels that he has it down to a science at this point.
When he starts weed-eating the gorge, the mill-people feel that it’s getting down to business, as it’s the first lights they begin to display. The tear-down process is quicker and weather dependent. It takes place after the first of the year when the display is no longer offered for the season. Mother Nature prevents them from leaving the lights up all year long.
“I’ve been doing it forever, and what I enjoy is now getting young families who walk up and say ‘when I was a kid, my mom and dad brought me, now we’re bringing our children’ – I’m seeing second and third generations – that’s how long I’ve been doing this,” Satariano said. “It reinforces in my mind that somewhere out there, I’m in someone’s family scrapbook. I am their holiday tradition.”
When the mill isn’t displaying its Christmas lights, which begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs until Jan. 1, it offers the restaurant and gift shop, along with tours throughout the spring and summer months. However, mill tours end when Satariano begins getting involved outside in preparation of the Christmas lights.
“What we have on the competition – there’s no big parking lot here, you’re not sitting in a neighborhood. You’re sitting out in nature and history here,” he said. “We have a lock on that, and we appreciate that.”
The restaurant took off in 1988, and offers breakfast food all day long, including 12-inch pancakes that can cover a dinner plate; it serves lunch until 3 p.m. and dinner every Friday and Saturday from Feb. 27 until the weekend before Thanksgiving. It offers concession-style food, including soup, hotdogs and cocoa, while the lights are displayed. The recipes are family-owned, or came with the mill itself.
“Now that we’re into it and enjoy it and are good at it, I guess you’d say, we constantly look forward to how to tweak it,” he said. “We’ve decided to take this name, image, whatever, and [brand it] … That’s probably our next avenue, apart from Christmas and the restaurant. Christmas will probably always be here until I can’t do it anymore, then I don’t know what would happen, but we’ll keep adding. We’re adding this year.”
Whitney Vickers can be reached by calling her directly at 937-502-4532 or by following her on Twitter by searching for @wnvickers. For more content online, visit our website or like our Facebook page.