News Local/State

The History Of Urbana’s Candlestick Lane

Some of the homes on Fairlawn Drive in Urbana, part of Candlestick Lane.

Some of the homes on Fairlawn Drive in Urbana, part of Candlestick Lane. Darrell Hoemann/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

It’s been 52 years since a utility company’s holiday decorating contest gave birth to a tradition in one Urbana neighborhood.  For about three weeks each December, three streets in East Urbana boast of lights, nativity scenes, and imaginations run wild, while motorists take their time to check out each display.

For members of the Second Wind Running Club, Tuesday’s mild weather was a good time to jog through the streets of Candlestick Lane. 

Jenn Burton and her colleagues say they usually detour from their regular route to see the display, no matter what the weather’s doing. She’s been coming through for at least a decade.

“It’s fun to run past Christmas lights in town, but I think we just appreciate that everybody in this neighborhood participates, and it’s always a lot of fun stuff close together so you can see a lot," she said. "It takes a lot to put this up.”

Jennifer Porter of Champaign knows a resident on Grant Place, and was visiting the neighborhood Tuesday with her 2-year old son, Kellen. Porter estimates she's come by Candlestick Lane for nearly 35 years.

"Sometimes the holidays get a little crazy, but we definitely try and get back," she said. "We just love seeing all the lights, and everybody adds something different almost every year.  And the lights get brighter, and it's just a really awesome sight to see."

A home on Urbana's Grant Place, the main route of Candlestick Lane.

Darrell Hoemann, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Charlie Halpin’s family was among the first to start the tradition. 

He says the idea was born when the utility company now known as Ameren, Illinois Power, held contests for the best decorated home, and block, in 1963.

“This was a new subdivision, if you can imagine," he said. "So there were no trees. East of us was a cornfield. So they all got together, very friendly as it was the first house for many starting out. They said ‘let’s to a block lighting’ and they won the contest.”

A 1974 Champaign-Urbana Courier article on Candlestick Lane from an album in Charlie Halpin's home.

Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Halpin says the $100 prize money was used to buy outdoor 'blow mold' electric candles for the first 17 homes taking part.

“They would go out – and with a sledgehammer – the actual sledgehammer handles, about three feet long, they would measure from the curb, and then that’s where they planted the candle," he said. "So as you look down the street, the consistency was always the candles, which started the Candlestick Lane, and then the houses would do all their magic.”

The East Urbana homes and yards that participate in Candlestick Lane, otherwise known as Grant Place, and part of Eastern and Fairlawn Drives, are lit from about 5 to 10 p.m. each evening through New Year’s Eve.