On the northwest corner of WPI lies a "castle" on a 5 acre site. This castle is called Higgins House after its original owner, Aldus Higgins. Designed with an English castle in mind, Higgins devoted much time and effort to his passion. The son of Milton P. Higgins, an industrialist and the first superintendent of the Washburn Shops, Aldus was the first of four children. A graduate of WPI and Washington's National University, Aldus was employed by the Norton Company. During this period he married Eugenie Brosius, a native of Washington, D.C. and had two children. She died suddenly at the age of 39 leaving him a widower until 1914 when he married Mary Sprague Green.
Soon after his marriage to Mary, Aldus purchased a dozen acres behind West Street. Frequently traveling to Europe on business trips, he became interested in art and old English castles. A castle named Compton Wyngates in Central England was the structure which Aldus tried to duplicate in Higgins House. Compton Wyngates, built in 1525, contained many features of a fortified castle including a moat and secret hiding places. Higgins House borrowed the multiplicity of ornamental chimneys and the variety of building materials, (bricks, stone, wood and stucco). Materials from New England and Europe created a patchwork quilt of a house reflecting the diversity of Higgins' taste. Construction began in 1920 and after a year delay was completed in 1923. The Higgins House, however, would be altered and added to throughout Higgins' life.
The Great Hall (36 feet by 22 feet) contains a three story window and fireplace capable of burning six foot timber; ten kinds of brick, detailed chimneys, and ornamental ironwork from Sweden are but a few of the personal touches present. Paintings from Picasso, Braque, Cezanne, and Roualt hung throughout the house reflected Higgins interest in art. An artist himself, he held parties in which guests would bring their original paintings to be viewed and judged. Higgins died in 1948, his wife Mary in 1970. The house was then given as a gift to WPI.
The house was not immediately incorporated into the WPI campus. It was initially used as a site for tours and a place for public functions. Plays put on by students took place in the basement and faculty and staff luncheons were held in the Great Hall. The second floor now contains offices for Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, the University Vice President, and the Director of External and Governmental Affairs. The first floor houses the faculty dining room and function space including the Great Hall and the Library. This space is frequently used for continuing education programs, luncheons, banquets and reunions. Heavy use, although beneficial for school affairs, has taken its toll on the house. Original windows, carvings and entrances have been altered to permit frequent use while some ornate latches and decorations have disappeared. The site on which the house is located has shrunk from the original twelve acres to its current five acres. In 1971, 1981, and 1993, efforts by the school threatened to develop a portion of the land into a parking lot. However, under both faculty and student protests, the plans were tabled until 2004, when plans went ahead without student notification under the direction of President Dennis Berkey.