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'Great River...Through the Years' exhibits Westfield's rich history

A painting by Jackie Koller, owner of the Little Black Dog Gallery in the Pilgrim Candle Marketplace, can be seen as part of the "today" section of the "Great River...Through the Years" exhibition. Various maps, architectural renderings and art compiled by Koller for the exhibit will illustrate Westfield's evolution. The unveiling of the exhibit is scheduled for Nov. 24 and will remain a permanent fixture at the marketplace. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD For over 100 years the Bismarck Hotel has been a part of Westfield's rich history. Where there were once horse and buggies lining Union Avenue are now innovative hybrid automobiles. This luxurious hotel catered to the most affluent of the city's thriving buggy whip industry. Today, the Bismarck Hotel is in the process of being fully restored and is home to the Pilgrim Candle Marketplace.

In order to pay homage to Westfield's vibrant past and its thriving future with the construction of the multimillion-dollar Great River Bridge Project, Jackie Koller, owner of the Little Black Dog Gallery located in the Pilgrim Candle Marketplace has been granted the opportunity by the marketplace owners, Joe and Donna Shibley, to compile a permanent exhibition illustrating the city's transformation.

Since the Shibley's purchase of the Bismark Hotel in 2000, as a base for their business Pilgrim Candle Co. Inc. Joe has been "working little-by-little" to restore the hotel for public use and enjoyment, Koller said.

She added that his slow restoration of the intact infrastructure such as its multi-patterned tin ceilings has peaked the interest of customers wanting to know more about the history of the hotel.

Koller said as she watched the restoration of the marketplace's rear entryway unfold, it made her realize that the location was a perfect home for the exhibit. The exhibition, titled "Great River.Through the Years," is a series of maps, posters, architectural renderings and artwork illustrating Westfield's past, present and future.

She said the exhibit is aimed at drawing attention to the Westfield River and to enhance people's appreciation of the area.

Koller noted that the linear exhibit can be broken down into Westfield's past, present and future. It will begin with an 1800s map of the city, an old postcard of the Bismarck Hotel and historical photographs of Depot Square as part of "yesterday." A poster form the Westfield River Watershed Association illustrating all of the key landmarks along the river will be the focal point of the "today" section of the exhibit. Architectural renderings of the Great River Bridge Project will comprise the "tomorrow" part of the exhibition.

Koller added that as the Great River Bridge Project continues a special section of the exhibition will be dedicated to the illustration of the city's progression into tomorrow. She said there will also be a special part of the exhibit designated to the history of Pilgrim Candle, which began in the early 1990s after Joe Shibley was laid off from his job and spent the next year teaching himself about candle manufacturing.

Donna Shibley said she is eager for the unveiling of the exhibit on Nov. 24, so that patrons will have the opportunity to see how Westfield is evolving.

She added that the purpose of the exhibit is for patrons and Westfield residents to "get excited about the project" as "it is a big stepping stone for Westfield."

Koller said the Great River Bridge Project will bring businesses like hers as well as Pilgrim Candle Co. Inc., "front and center" as it will promote greater traffic flows and "bring the river to people's attention."

For more information about Pilgrim Candle Co. Inc. visit their Web site at For more information about the Little Black Dog Gallery go to