In 1895, James S. Weston, a former Governor of New Hampshire, and a former Mayor of the City of Manchester, New Hampshire died. He left $5,000 in his will for the purpose of building an observatory on Oak Hill, in Derryfield Park.
On Sept 6, 1896 the cornerstone was laid for what was called the Weston Observatory, by the Knights Templar of Manchester. It was formally dedicated by the officers of the Grand Lodge, A.F. and A.M. of New Hampshire, Henry A. Marsh of Nashua grand master.
The observatory was erected by the Head & Dowst Company, from plans of M.F. Davis of Lowell MA, under the direction of a special committee appointed by the Manchester city government. The observatory is built of New Hampshire granite, and is fifty feet to the floor of the outlook, and sixy-six feet from base to finial. The summit of Oak hill is five hundred thirty-seven feet above sea level, and the top of the observatory is three hundred eighty-six feet above Elm Street.
Great ceremonies were held in preparation of the laying of its cornerstone, including a grand parade. Special cars carried the people where the ceremony laying the corner-stone of the observatory was witnessed by a large number of spectators.
Prayers were said, speeches were offered, songs were sung. It was said that from the top of the Weston Observatory you could see a view extending from the White Mountains to Mount Wachusett in Massachusetts, and from Saddleback Mountain in Rockingham County to Mount Monadnock in Cheshire County.
Is is often the custom on such occasions, a “time capsule” or “memorials of the period” were placed into a casket. The contents included (among many things) a portrait of James A. Weston, a parchment copy of Mr. Weston’s $5,000 bequest for building the observatory and the city council resolution accepting it, an 1896 map of the city of Manchester, list of officers of the Grand Lodge of Masons of New Hampshire, program of the Semi-Centennial celebration, Almanac of 1872, a Semi-Centennial button, a copy of several local newspapers, etc. For a complete list of the contents of the casket, see “Semi-Centennial of the City of Manchester NH Sept 6-9, 1896.”
This casket had the following engraved inscription: “Inscribed to the Memory of Our Friend and Professional Brother, James A. Weston, by the Civil Engineers of Manchester, Sept. 7, 1896. Charles K. Walker, Augustus G. Stevens, George H. Allen, Perry H. Dow, W.H. Bennett, Frank A. Gay, Charles H. Bartlett, John P. Young, Charles S. Kidder, Joseph B. Sawyer. The casket was then lowered into its place “amid impressive music by the band.”
One of the speeches at placing the cornerstone included on by Grand Master Henry A. Marsh of Nashua, who said, “The structure to be erected on Oak Hill park will stand for ages, as a monument to the integrity and liberality of our distinguished brother, James A. Weston. However, while the Weston Observatory will, in the course of time, decay and crumble to dust, the principles of Masonry, which inspired its erection, will live forever.”