McAdenville's lights to shine again tonight

Mike Benden is the guy who needs extra outlets to plug in his estimated 6,000 Christmas lights. He's the guy who balances on a porch railing to hang garlands high on the house's second story.

He's the guy born to live in Christmas Town USA.

Tonight the lights go on in McAdenville. The former Gaston County mill town, pop. 641, has a 52-year tradition of lighting up everything that doesn't move, so thousands of outsiders can drive through and witness.

They won't necessarily see Benden's house, which is off the main procession. He lives in one of the new homes, about 35 neotraditional homes larger and more expensive than the aging mill houses they replaced.

Like many towns close to Charlotte, McAdenville looks different than it did a few years ago. Pharr Yarns, the textile company that built it and still pays the bill for most of the massive lights display, sold off a hill of old buildings and the land underneath them.

Saussy Burbank will eventually build about 150 more homes, designed to fit in with the older parts of McAdenville.

This is Benden's first Christmas here, and the first for many newcomers excited to be part of Christmas Town USA.

A Pittsburgh native, Benden is a flight attendant for US Airways. When the company cut back service there two years ago, he started looking for a new place to live in the Charlotte area.

He found McAdenville.

"When I saw it was Christmas Town, I thought, oh, this was meant to be," he said.

He's been inspired by the holiday since he was 4. Mr. Miller down the street filled every inch of his yard with Christmas decorations -- including a rotating tree that made the kids' eyes sparkle. Every year he was mesmerized.

"Things like that, from your childhood, you always remember those people," he said.

He wants to give people the same warm feeling when they see his decorations. He planned them -- hand-tied ribbons, individually-festooned garlands, thousands of lights -- before his house was even built.

"He'd say 'Oh my house is gonna shine!'" said neighbor Martha Cooke.

Benden plans to add more to his yard every year, just as the rest of the town adds more to its display.

Workers this week have heaped the final strands of lights on the tallest trees, using a local cherry-picker truck. They've been getting the lights ready since August, in the old neighborhoods where many of the buildings are still owned by Pharr Yarns.

Some of the town's longtime residents miss the old mill houses. But they're warming to the Village homes.

"The new ones grow on you," said Keith McLean, who has lived all his 41 years in McAdenville. "They look good when they're all lit up and decorated."