Preservationists from the University of Pennsylvania began preliminary work inside The Mancos Times office on Grand Avenue in Mancos last week.
Professor Frank Matero, who has been working at Mesa Verde every summer for many years, saw the Mancos press room and the original press for the first time last winter.
"I saw this place and realized how rare and important it was," he said.
The preservationists believe the large Cranston Press inside the Mancos Times is one of three left in the country. Many of the presses were sold for scrap when they became outdated.
The office, however was built for the newspaper around the turn of the century and Matero believes the back wall was left open so the press could be dragged into the room. Removing the press from the building would have meant tearing out the back wall.
Matero saw the press and the building as an untapped resource for the town and approached the Chamber of Commerce last summer to ask if he could help restore the building and the press. Members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Mancos Arts Council and Richard Ballentine, who owns the building, have been working with Matero on a plan for the building.
Matero says the press can be restored to function again, and the group would like to turn the building into a graphic arts school with an artist in residence.
"It would really be a big anchor for the town and add to its reputation as an arts community," said Betsy Harrison, who was the president of the Chamber when the group was approached.
Harrison said the group didn't know how rare the press was before Matero approached them.
"We didn't know what a little treasure we had in our midst," she said.
The group has named the project The Mancos Common Press, and they plan to start seeking grant funding in the spring with help from Mancos Valley Resources. She thinks it will be a good candidate because of it's historical value and their plan to use to revive traditional graphic arts.
Ballantine, who is chairman of the board of directors of Ballantine Communications Inc., and the newspapers' editorial board, is actively involved in the conversation.
"He is very enthusiastic about the possibilities," Harrison said.
Last week the group from Pennsylvania tore down a dividing wall between the front office and the press room. The also cut out a drop ceiling to reveal the decorative tin underneath. The movable type and archives were boxed up, and the building evaluated for more preservation work. The tree behind the building will have to be cut down because the roots are making the floor uneven.
While the front office was in use until recently, the back room was left as though the pressmen walked out yesterday - like an Egyptian tomb, Matero said. Much of the machinery was left behind after printing was moved elsewhere including linotype machines that pressed the letters into soft lead and lead stamps of smiling men and women used to print advertisments.
Matero hopes to bring a team from the University of Pennsylvania's Historic Preservation Program in the School of Design over spring break and during the summer to work on the project. Students from all the program have worked at Mesa Verde and historical sites all over the world including Turkey and Italy.