A post card from the writer's collection showing the falls lit up some time in the 1980s.
Christmas Greetings from Ludlow Falls
By Judy Deeter
LUDLOW FALLS - Many of us have wonderful memories of long ago Christmas seasons. One memory is shared by thousands of people throughout the Miami Valley: seeing lights over Ludlow Falls at Christmastime. Local residents still recall standing in chilly snow and being amazed at the beauty of lights sparkling over the falls’ icy water.
These decades-old post cards (above and below) show Christmas scenes from yesteryear at the falls. The first Ludlow Falls Christmas display post card published in 1959. From then on, new post cards were issued annually.
The post card with the lights over the falls was made sometime after 1983. Printed on the back of the card are the words: “Biggest and best Christmas display in the state of Ohio—Annual attendance of over 100,000 people—1983.” The post card was published by Dexter Press of West Nyack, New York.
Note: Many early photographs of the falls’ Christmas lights are in black and white and do not show the colorful beauty of the Christmas displays. Photographs taken in both black and white and color, however, do show the words “Merry Christmas – Happy New Year” hanging above the water.
The nativity scene post card below is not dated. It was made by MWM Dexter of Aurora, Missouri. Though it was published by a different company and in another year than the post card of the Christmas lights, the wording on the back of both post cards is nearly identical.
The tradition to light the falls each December started at the end of the 1940s when local Boy Scouts placed one string of lights over the State Route 48 bridge near the falls. (Historical records give both the years 1949 and 1950 as the year that Boy Scouts hung the first string of lights.) The suggestion to light the falls is reported to have come from S.O. Thompson.
The Ludlow Falls Fire Department, Inc. (a volunteer group) took over the light display project in 1953. The fire department planned throughout the year for the upcoming year’s display. Construction started in October and continued until the display opened. It is estimated that the fire department spent about 1,500 man-hours annually to create and operate the light display. It was open 23 nights each year. Historical records say that each year about 65,000 light bulbs were used and that the light string was 55 miles long.
A life-size nativity scene was added to the display in 1965. It was replaced by a new nativity scene in 1977.
People came by the thousands to see the Christmas lights at Ludlow Falls. The average attendance was 100,000 annually. The book HISTORY OF MIAMI COUNTY OHIO (1981) published by The Miami County Historical Society gives statistical information about the attendance for the first 30 years. According to the book, the largest attendance to that time was in 1976 when 136,881 came to see the lights. The book reports the largest one-night attendance was 14,625 in 1974.
The light display was held annually through 1999. In 2000, it was cancelled when the State Route 48 bridge was replaced. The fire department voted in 2002 to again place lights at the falls, and the lighting display did return in 2003. Unfortunately, both attendance at the display and donation funds to light the falls fell far below that of previous years. Only 41,000 of the expected 80,000 people came to see the display. The falls have not been lit since 2003.
Though the display has been gone for more than a decade, it lives on in old pictures, post cards, and the minds of people throughout the area. People still smile when they talk about seeing the Christmas lights at Ludlow Falls.
For more information about the Ludlow Falls Christmas light display, contact The Troy Historical Society at (937) 339-5900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Nativity Scene at the annual display. The frame of the old scene can still be seen in the middle-left of the modern pictures on the left.