A new holiday tradition: The story behind Carillon’s Tree of Light


WHAT: First annual Carillon Tree of Light Lighting

WHEN: Dec. 1, 6 p.m.

WHERE: Carillon Historical Park, 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton

COST: Free

INFO: daytonhistory.org

Picture this: You’re driving along Interstate 75 in downtown Dayton after dark. Your eyes immediately are drawn to the Deeds Carillon off in the distance. The beloved bell tower — one of Dayton’s best-known landmarks and the largest carillon in Ohio — has been transformed into the shape of a holiday tree towering 200 feet in the air and glowing with 20,000 white lights.

Next week, this scene will become reality when Dayton History unveils the city’s newest holiday tradition and its latest project designed to help draw more visitors to Dayton and the historic park.

“We want everyone who is driving on I-75 to see this and say, ‘Wow, that’s neat. Dayton has some really great things going on,’” said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History.

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, the new Carillon Tree of Light will shine for the first time at a special event at Carillon Historical Park. The illumination and a concert of Christmas carols will begin at 6 p.m., and free refreshments will be served. The Carillon Tree of Light will be turned on nightly through New Year's Day and be accompanied by programmed carillon music, Kress said.

The Tree of Light is the latest in a $25 million long-term plan to help make Carillon Historical Park a true destination. Other key components of the master plan include a working train to take passengers around Carillon Historical Park as well as an extension to the park's central Kettering Family Education Center, crowned by a reproduction of the rotunda topping the downtown Dayton Arcade.

“This project is further evidence that Carillon Park will never be complete; it’s the first installment of the revised master plan unveiled this past August, and the first realized in Dayton History’s first three months of its second decade,” Kress said.

The idea for the Tree of Light was inspired in part by the old Kings Island Winterfest, in which the Eiffel Tower was decorated like a tree, and Indianapolis’ more than 50-year-old downtown Circle of Lights, Kress said. During the Circle of Lights, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Monument Circle downtown is covered with 4,784 colored lights, 52 garland strands and is surrounded by large decorations. It serves as a focal point and gathering place.

An important historical discovery also helped spark this idea, Kress said. While the first official Deeds Carillon concert on record occurred on Easter Sunday 1942, Dayton History learned about an impromptu Christmas Eve concert that occurred 17 days after the attack at Pearl Harbor. The Christmas Eve 1941 performance marked the first time the public heard beautiful music ringing from the Carillon bells. The Tree of Light helps honor that important concert, Kress said.

Once the Tree of Light was revealed as part of the master plan back in the summer, Connie and John Taylor of Kettering — members and longtime supporters — stepped in with a generous contribution to help the nonprofit Dayton History bring the project to fruition in time for this holiday season.

“I’m very thrilled to be part of it,” Connie Taylor said. “I’m thrilled to be able to do it for the community; it’s going to be spectacular.”

The Tree of Light, believed to be Ohio's tallest of its kind, was crafted by Active Electric of Dayton and Wilcon Corporation of Kettering.

“One of the important considerations is that the Deeds Carillon is on the National Register. It’s our icon and namesake and one of the most recognized symbols in Dayton, Ohio,” Kress said. “We didn’t want to do anything to permanently alter it. Nothing is anchored into the Carillon. Everything that people will see that’s above ground is removed after the new year, so there were no permanent changes to the Carillon,” he said.

Much of the prep work was underground and involved pouring concrete anchor points in the ground around the monument and installing underground circuits. Then 100 cables were run from a mast at the top of the carillon to the ground, forming the shape of a Christmas tree. Lights are attached to the cables.

Long term, the goal is to make the Tree of Light a gathering place and a focal point for holiday events at Carillon, as well as to support the overall goals of Dayton History and Carillon.

“I hope the community gains more of an awareness of Carillon Park in the summertime and wintertime, too, and gain an awareness of what can be done in the community for the good of everybody,” Connie Taylor said.

About the Author