Elgin Lights kicks off final display after 25 years

Paul Towns puts on the show each year in honor of Cole Sawyer, who died at 11-years-old in 2004...
Paul Towns puts on the show each year in honor of Cole Sawyer, who died at 11-years-old in 2004 from cancer.(WIS)
Published: Dec. 19, 2021 at 5:21 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 24, 2021 at 10:43 AM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Elgin Lights started 25 years ago as a free holiday light show for the community, but it’s since grown into an annual fundraiser for Camp Kemo, a camp for kids with cancer.

Paul Towns puts on the show each year in honor of Cole Sawyer, who died at 11 years old in 2004 from cancer.

“That was the same that I found out I had cancer,” said Paul.

Through the years, Paul’s health has declined, but Elgin Lights has come back each year for the same purpose—lighting up the lives of others.

“He’s in stage four. He’s on hospice, so we know it’s coming. We’ve already planned the whole thing,” said Christina.

Paul depends on his daughter, Christina, and close friends to put up the massive display.

“Words can’t say how much I appreciate how much they help me,” said Paul.

Since the start, Paul said they had planned to run the lights for around 25 years.

“You’ve got to have a stopping point, but if I had my health, we probably could go a little bit more.”

From the first year with 10,000 lights until now with more than 100,000 lights, Paul has also opened his collection of treasures to anyone who comes through.

“There are six buildings, and each one is its own museum.”

From Barbies to military memorabilia to tractors and trains, Paul plans to keep his museums open year-round, even when he turns off Elgin lights for the final time on December 24.

Christina Churchwell, Paul’s daughter, says what she’ll miss most is seeing the community visit year after year.

“I’ve literally seen people from our first lights show all the way up to being 25 years old now,” said Christina. “They help support what we care about by coming out and sharing this tradition of memories.”

Putting up the lights takes a toll on Christina who works full-time and has two kids in college. It takes her 45 days to set up the display with just a weekend to take them down.

Christina says COVID has taken a hit on the crowd, too. Before the pandemic, around 4,000 people would come through Elgin Lights each night from December 15 through December 24. Now, it’s down to the hundreds.

Paul says it’s not goodbye. It’s simply a “see you later.”

“We’re not going to stop doing things for Christmas,” said Paul.

Paul and Christina say they’re planning a way to keep all six museums open year-round by appointment to allow groups to come through for tours. They also plan to keep a Christmas tradition going.

To learn more about Elgin Lights and keep up to date on their future plans, visit their website

The 2021 Elgin Lights display runs each night from Dec. 15 through Dec. 24 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Copyright 2021 WIS. All rights reserved.

Notice a spelling or grammar error in this article? Click or tap here to report it. Please include the article’s headline.