Often the most engaging history lesson is one you can see, touch or walk through. The Battle of Bunker Hill is always associated with the 294 steps I climbed in the obelisk that memorializes it, and the dull ache in my legs when I reached the top. I remember the warm, metallic smell on the lower decks of the USS Wisconsin, an Iowa Class battleship commissioned in World War II, marveling at the idea that men had once hunkered down there during the bombardment of Okinawa and how the texture of the Vietnam Memorial lingered on my fingers for a seemingly impossible amount of time afterwards. These are the types of moments that people never forget.
Granted, Manchester is not the navel hub that Norfolk is or the historical convergence that Boston was, but the city has a rich history that is often memorialized with simple statutes sitting stagnant in the middle of its parks, but I discovered this is not entirely the case. On a recent schedule-wrecking, focus-stealing jaunt through Google Earth, I happened upon a photo of something called the Weston Observatory, a rogue lighthouse looking structure that had escaped the coast.
Curious, my girlfriend and I hopped in the car one morning and drove up to Derryfield Park. We were greeted with a motorized gate and no signs indicating the existence of the observatory. We parked to the side of the small road and slipped by the gate on foot. Sure enough, it was there, along with an overgrown clearing, several graffiti laden boulders and two memorialized canons overlooking a barbed-wire clad Oak Hill Water Reservoir (certainly, what the motorized gate was all about). The observatory is surrounded by an old, intimidating wrought, iron fence and a locked gate. The door is boarded up along with the windows. We searched for an information kiosk or plaque to give us a little back story to the structure's history, but there was nothing, just the word "WESTON" carved into the stone above the door. The place felt forgotten, a reminder that every building and space is on a trajectory.
Manchester's website has a quick blurb about the tower and James Adams Weston, a four time mayor of Manchester and twice elected governor of NH in the mid 19th century. Weston left $5000 for the observatory to built after he passed in 1895. Considering the state of his monument, I found it serendipitous that Weston (a gifted engineer by trade) happened to be renowned for commissioning many city beautification projects. He was also instrumental in modernizing Manchester's water and sewage infrastructure, the subject of a future post or two.
Despite the tower itself being in amazing shape, it's sad to see a piece of history locked up and neglected. Think of the micro field trips the local schools are missing or the theatrical first kisses teenagers are being denied atop the Weston Observatory. Imagine donning a parka and throwing a telescope over your shoulder for a casual night of looking at the stars or giving your kids a sense of geography during a simple picnic.
Understandably, the city government already cares for several recreational areas, and one more potentially under-utilized and difficult to maintain property is last thing on the collective political mind, but I'm curious as to what department the minor maintenance of the observatory falls under. Looking at Google Maps, you can see the observatory is not technically within the borders of the Derryfield Park, though it feels it should be. Is it still Parks and Recreation's responsibility? Or perhaps it is the Water department's job based on the monument's proximity to the reservoir? Maybe, nobody.
A few facts about the Weston Observatory:
- The first cornerstone was laid September 7, 1896
- The tower stands 66 feet tall
- In World War II, it was used as a spotting post for air raid wardens
- It is made entirely of local New Hampshire granite
- Weston left $5000 for the observatory to be built when he died in 1895 (isn't this kind of like buying your own birthday cake?)
- The Knights Templar oversaw the project as Weston was a high-ranking Mason