History

 

The Higgins Armory Museum building was constructed between 1929 and 1931 specifically to hold Higgin's collection of arms and armor in a museum setting. Originally named The Museum of Steel and Armor, the four-story Art Deco building was designed by Joseph D. Leland of BostonMassachusetts. The steel-framed building with large expanses of glass cost more than $300,000 at the time to construct and is believed to be one of the first buildings in the U.S. constructed solely out of steel and glass.

The building is L-shaped, with the corner chamfered. The entrance is located on this chamfer, and a large decoration of a half suit of armor sits on the roof above it. The exterior consists of visible steel pilasters decorated with oversized rivets, dividing sections of glass windows along the sides of the building. A decorative band of steel runs above the first story windows, and a row of large medallions decorates the cornice. Originally, the first two floors of the building were for offices, while the upper two housed the museum. The L-shaped building appears to be a massive city-block sized structure, but in reality, it wraps around the former factory, to which it was connected via catwalks. The building was often used to impress potential clients, as well as becoming a locally known museum and cultural venue open to the public.

The main hall inside the building stands in sharp contrast to the exterior. The interior walls of the main galleries were constructed of plaster on metal lathe, and the whole space was designed to resemble Prince Eugene of Savoy's Hohenwerfen Castle in Austria, where Higgins acquired a selection of works in the collection. The walls were finished to resemble the Gothic stone arches in the medieval castle. Medieval-style lighting fixtures can be found throughout the building.

The museum was first accredited after Higgins died in 1972 by the American Association of Museums and continued operations through the closing of the Worcester Pressed Steel Company in 1975. On January 4, 1978, it was the victim of a theft of arms and armor worth over $100,000. 1979 saw the museum change from a private foundation owned by the Higgins family to a public-supported charity. At the vote to incorporate under a public board of trustees, the incorporators turned down offers by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to purchase the collection, as well as an offer of a merger with the Worcester Art Museum. Another offer to purchase the collection came in 1985, this time from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It too was turned down. The new museum board rewrote the mission statement, closed the exhibits on modern steel manufacturing, and devoted the museum entirely to ancient and medieval arms and armor.  By refocusing the collection, the board created the only museum in America devoted purely to arms and armor. The Higgins Armory lost this title in 2004 with the opening of the Frazier Historical Arms Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.