Ever wondered what it’s like to drive a World War II tank? The American Heritage Museum, a program of the Collings Foundation, will not only give you the opportunity to find out, you can see nearly one hundred other large tanks, military vehicles, and aircraft as well as rare automobiles at this unique museum.
A non-profit organization, the Collings Foundation has supported transportation-related “living history” programs since it was founded by Bob and Caroline Collings in 1977 at their home on the town line of Stow and Hudson, MA. For years, the foundation operated a travelling World War II aircraft display known as the “Wings of Freedom Tour” that visited over one-hundred cities nationwide each year for three decades. They also hosted living history events at the private museum in Stow related to their pre-1940 antique automobile collection and also hosted a World War II re-enactment weekend every October.
Everything changed in 2014 when the foundation was gifted the enormous tank and military vehicle collection built by Jacques M. Littlefield. Over the previous three decades, Littlefield amassed a collection of over 250 vehicles from World War One to the modern day on a ranch in the hills above Silicon Valley in Portolla Valley, CA. Upon his passing in 2009, the Littlefield family sought to transfer the collection to an organization with the ability to transform it into a fitting museum to preserve the passion that Littlefield had for armored vehicles throughout his life. The Collings Foundation was chosen to do this and in 2014, the collection slowly began the move from California to Massachusetts by truck to a new museum being built to house the collection on the grounds of the Collings Foundation headquarters.
In 2019, the newly constructed American Heritage Museum opened to the public for the first time with the most historic artifacts of the Littlefield Collection on display. Within the enormous 67,000 square foot museum, visitors will begin their journey stepping foot into a replicated World War I trench inside and will follow a timeline of military history that takes them through World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and into the battlefields of today. Many of the tanks and military vehicles within the museum are the only types on display in the nation and even sometimes the world… like the German Panther tank from World War II, an original P-40B Tomahawk fighter that was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, or the Iraqi SCUD Missile and launcher from the Gulf War. There is even a modern-day M1A1 Abrams tank on display.
But if you’re thinking that this is only a museum for the die-hard military enthusiast, think again. True to the “living history” roots of the Collings Foundation, the American Heritage Museum features many interactive and immersive exhibits, telling the story of not only the 95+ behemoths on display, but also of the advancing technology behind each design, and the personal stories of the men (and women) that crewed them in combat.
But the ultimate immersion in history comes to life behind the museum… just follow the roar! The American Heritage Museum offers a World War II tank driving experience program for able-bodied visitors that want to learn how to muscle a 1944 M4 Sherman or M24 Chaffee tank around the outdoor driving course. Of course, the cost of keeping 80 year old tanks in running order is not cheap, so the experience might cost you a bit more, but the experience of going back in time eight decades is truly priceless! Tank rides are also available for more budget-minded explorers.
If you visit during the summer months, the museum hosts monthly themed “living history” weekends where they open not only the main museum, but also the annex buildings that house a small vintage aircraft collection, a sizable vintage auto collection including rare cars like the 1932 Dual Cowl SJ Phaeton Duesenberg. Each of the special event weekends include outdoor displays like encampments, tank demonstrations, and even flying displays from the adjacent airfield.
Know Before You Go
The American Heritage Museum is open each week, Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and tank driving and rides may be arranged by appointment. You'll want to plan at least two to three hours to fully explore the museum.
Though the museum is located at the Collings Foundation headquarters in Stow, their new entry road is actually located in Hudson, MA and the former address in Stow is no longer open for visitors.