If you are a fan of military history, this museum in Hudson, MA, is a must-see place to visit. It's relatively new and opened less than 2 years ago. Nothing seen from this exterior view prepares visitors for what's inside this very large facility. Certainly, we were surprised.
The American Heritage Museum (AHM) is housed in a building space that covers over 65,000 square feet in Hudson, MA. Its address is listed as Main Street, but, you won't see it on that road as it's set very far off the road, a good quarter of a mile in. After seeing the sign and turning, we wondered if we had read it right because we drove up such a long access road.
Unless you are specifying looking for this museum, like we were, its purpose isn't obvious. Unlike other museums, there's no identifying signage on the outside of the building, which resembles a massive warehouse. Once we entered, it became very clear that this would be quite an experience. And, it did not disappoint. The museum showcases an amazing number of tanks, automobiles, aircraft, and other wartime machinery with interactive exhibits, short films, and helpful docents. As with any museum, there's an admission fee, discounted for veterans, seniors, active military and children (although this is not a museum for the very young.)
The AHM is a branch of the Collings Foundation, headquartered in Stowe, MA, a non-profit educational institution founded in 1979 and dedicated to the preservation, exhibition and interaction of historical artifacts. (Since 1989, a major focus of the Foundation has been the Wings of Freedom Tour of WWII aircraft. In 32 years, the tour has made more than 3,500 visits to airports across the U.S. and stopped in Nashua, NH, again this past July.)
Getting permission to build the museum became contentious in 2015 when the Stowe Planning Board rejected the Foundation's building application. The board was concerned about placing such a large facility on land zoned residential. The Foundation cited a part of Massachusetts General Law (the Dover Amendment) that exempts agricultural, religious, and educational corporations from some zoning restrictions stating the museum’s purpose was completely educational. An agreement reached in July 2017 allowed construction to start in 2018 and the museum opened in May 2019.
After paying admission, we entered a room with bench seating to view an informative film about the nation’s early history and involvement in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. This introduction included re-enactments and famous scenes showing America's early battles for freedom.
When the film ended, doors opened leading visitors to the WWI Trench Experience. This presentation is presented in a room-size diorama and we stood in a trench that runs the length of the room. Images are projected to recreate Western front trenches at the Battle of Saint Mihiel, the only offensive launched solely by the U. S. Army in WW I. The exhibit's narrator represents nurse Helen Dore Boylston of New Bedford, MA, who nursed the wounded at a front-line field hospital and wrote about her experiences in a 1927 book, Sister: The War Diary of a Nurse.
|Show car used by Adolf Hitler for parades|
Next, comes the War Clouds exhibit which provides an educational interpretation of the rise of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Exhibits here show the Nazi rise to power, invasions through Europe and Imperial Japan’s attacks through China and the Pacific. Exhibits include soldier's uniforms and other historical items, including the show car Adolf Hitler used for parades. This exhibit ends in 1941 with a film sequence showing the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Afterwards, we walked through to an enormous, aircraft-hangar sized space with a viewing balcony. It ran along much of the second floor giving an overall view of the entire main floor.
Military artifacts are arranged chronologically and grouped under major campaigns and theaters of war. There are numerous tanks that have been completely refurbished and now look more like showroom models than the weapons of war that they once were.
More than half of the items displayed are from the WW II era. Also represented are WW I, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, Iraq War and others. The majority of display items are American, German, Russian, or British. Many of these restored tanks and vehicles represent the only ones on public display in North America; most include photos of the item in use during a specific conflict.
Many once were in the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation collection in Portola Valley, CA, founded in 1975 by Jacques Littlefield. It closed in 2018 after his death, and many items went to other museums. Littlefield, a Stanford University graduate and former Hewlett Packard engineer had amassed a $30 million collection of over 240 military vehicles that included 30 tanks, 13 armored personnel carriers, 12 tank destroyers, as well as reconnaissance vehicles, trucks, motorcycles, artillery, and the propeller from the Lusitania (a British ocean liner sunk in May 1915 by a German U-boat). It was considered the world’s largest privately held collection.
Littlefield had the fortune needed for his interest. He was a multi-millionaire whose great-grandfather founded the Utah Construction Co., which helped build the Hoover and Grand Coulee dams. His father was a member of the Forbes 400 Richest People in America. Littlefield acquired and restored the vehicles along with a team of top mechanics. Most were stored in a private museum on his 470-acre CA ranch where he held open houses. Adhering to state and federal laws, none of tanks had functional firing apparatus.
|1944 Panther tank after it was pulled from a Polish river bottom|
The pride of Littlefield's collection was a 1944 German Panzer V Panther tank scuttled after it fell through the ice and sank in a Polish river during WW II. This tank was one of the most feared of its day with frontal armor and a long-barreled gun which destroyed Allied tanks at long ranges. The 49-ton tank was recovered after 50 years on the river bottom. Mechanics worked five years to restore it by rebuilding the hull, fabricating armor, rewiring, and rebuilding the engine. It was completed in 2009, weeks after Littlefield's death from colon cancer at age 59. Today, it's the most completely restored and fully operational Panther and the only one on display anywhere in the U.S. It's also one of the rarest military vehicles in the world.
We were able to walk through the large space at our own pace without restrictions or time limits. Volunteer docents, which include veterans, were on hand to answer questions and provide further information. Short films and exhibit displays provided more details.
The museum also address more recent conflicts such as The Cold War displaying a piece of the Berlin Wall and also The War on Terror with a film showing the attacks and collapse of the World Trade Centers in NYC. A twisted beam from one of the twin towers is part of this exhibit.
The AHM is a hidden gem that’s truly unique even to visitors like ourselves who are not deep into military history. We found it difficult not to be impressed with the armaments of warfare after touring this facility. The presentations were excellent considering the grim subject matter. Most likely we won't make a return visit as there are so many places to visit and time is always limited, but we will highly recommend it to others looking for a very unusual New England museum.
The post title is a tribute to American entertainer Bob Hope who made 57 tours for the United Service organizations (USO) between 1941 and 1991 entertaining active military members worldwide. In 1997, the U.S. Congress passed a bill making Hope an honorary veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces. His signature theme song was Thanks for the Memories introduced in a 1938 film, The Big Broadcast of 1938, and sung by Hope and Shirley Ross. It was composed by composed by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin and won the Academy Award for best Original Song.