Whistle Stop Christmas began in 1996 with just a few people who wanted to decorate Cleburne in a special way for the Holidays. As the story goes, Rebecca Roe had gone to Marble Falls to visit some friends, and they had been telling her about the beautiful lights their town displayed each year at Christmas.
Rebecca thought this would be wonderful for Cleburne. But she didn’t know how to get it started. Rebecca’s husband, Robert, was chairman of the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce at the time, and he introduced to an energetic woman named Nell Dixon who had just taken the position as the chamber president.
The Roes Ben Franklin store had been accidentally double-shipped Christmas lights that year. Rebecca seizes the opportunity to decorate parts of the city with the extra lights. Rebecca asked Nell if they could call a meeting of community members who could be instrumental in spearheading an extravagant lighting display in Cleburne, and Nell said “Go for it.”
Thus began Whistle Stop Christmas. Tom Harrington is another Cleburne man who had talked with Rebecca about putting up lights. Rebecca was interested in lighting the park; Tom was interested in lighting the buildings downtown and the Downtown Cleburne Association wanted to illuminate the Johnson County Courthouse. So this was the origination of Whistle Stop Christmas in 1996.
The project started out small with the help of the City of Cleburne, the Johnson County Probationers, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Mayor Tom Hazelwood, TXU, Witherspoon Electric, Jeff Kandt, Laurie Hardee, Clint Forrest, Donna Turner, co-chairs Larry McClain, Neal Logan, David Witherspoon, a great committee, Heritage Assembly Inc., and the Johnson County Board of Realtors. Thanks to these people the 1st annual Whistle Stop happened.
Whistle Stop Christmas is now a countywide event. The Whistle Stop Christmas Committee meets all year long getting ready for the event. Whistle Stop Christmas is also established as a 501 (c) (3) under the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The Whistle Stop Christmas Committee is open to anyone who would like to participate. It has 11 board members and about 75 volunteers who physically put the event together.
Troy & Nell Dixon co-chair the Whistle Stop committee. There are several volunteers that have dedicated many hours get the lights ready before they are put into the park. They began working at the Whistle Stop building in October and began creating the magic in the park mid-October.
Whistle Stop has an estimated 3 1/2 million lights in Hulen Park alone. At least 250,000 cars pass on Westhill alone throughout December to look at the lights. Hulen Park is a lighted area of 12 acres. Whistle Stop Christmas is hosted by the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce and the City of Cleburne.