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Mancos Common Press featured in PBS documentary

‘Press of the West’ stars local voices, newspapers’ role in shaping the West
Rocky Mountain PBS recently aired a documentary featuring the Mancos Common Press and its role in the town’s history. The Cranston Press is a rare artifact nationally, and was recently restored in the old Mancos Times-Tribune building.

Mancos made mainstream television recently with the release of a PBS documentary featuring the Mancos Common Press and its role in shaping the town.

“Press of the West” aired April 16 as part of the Rocky Mountain PBS Colorado Experience series. The 26-minute documentary tells the story of the press and its restoration, weaving together a host of local voices who reflect on the historical value of newspapers in the West and why the restoration means so much to Mancos.

“I just thought it was an interesting story of unexpected discovery and also a way of talking about the importance of small-town papers in settling the old West,” Carol Fleisher, Rocky Mountain PBS producer-in-residence at Fort Lewis College, told The Journal. “We could do that through the lens of the Mancos Times, and the underpinning of the story being this discovery of the Cranston Press.”

The film traces the history of the 100-year-old press over the past century, and its recent rediscovery by a crew of preservationists from University of Pennsylvania. The idea to focus on the Mancos press had been percolating for a few years, Fleisher said, but really came to fruition last year.

Under Fleisher’s guidance, a crew of FLC students planned, filmed, produced and edited the documentary.

“I think that they really got the sense of community out of Mancos,” Fleisher said. “And I also think that they learned a lot about teamwork and collaborating, which is really one of the best things I can teach.”

The press’ story is tied to that of the Mancos newspaper scene. The Mancos Times was founded in 1893 as the town’s first newspaper, and the Mancos Tribune was founded in 1902. A few years later, the Freeman brothers purchased and merged the papers to create the Mancos Times-Tribune.

“It was definitely the local, family newspaper,” Mancos Mayor Queenie Barz, niece of longtime editor Ira Freeman, said in the film. “Everybody had their own little headline.

Mancos artist Brad Goodell painted a mural on the side of the old Mancos Times-Tribune building reflecting the history of the Common Press.

The Cranston Press was purchased in 1910, according to the Mancos Common Press website.

The last publisher of the Mancos Times-Tribune was the late Richard (Dick) Patrick, who purchased the newspaper in 1963. His daughter, retired teacher Pam Coppinger, said Patrick always wanted to be a publisher and had to learn the reporting part while on the job – which for a local small-town newspaper in the 1960s, meant that he was “involved in everything.”

“There were no computers at that point, not even cellphones,” she told The Journal. “So you had to be at the events. You couldn’t rely on other people, so you were at every game, every funeral, every wedding.”

She recalls rising early on Friday mornings and printing addresses for the papers to be delivered, manually using a smaller press.

Patrick sold the paper to the Brown family in the late 1960s, Coppinger said. The Browns later sell the paper to the Ballantine family of Durango.

In 2013, a part-time Mancos resident and University of Pennsylvania preservationist named Frank Matero stumbled across the press and was amazed at the find.

“The gilding on the great wheel caught my eye, and I realized it was an entirely intact print shop,” Matero said in the documentary. He likened the discovery to archaeologist Howard Carter coming across King Tut’s tomb in the 1920s.

Further digging showed that there were only three known Cranston Presses in the nation at the time, Matero said.

“It was obvious to me at least that if we could get this building back and make it alive again, get it back into the mainstream of the Mancos citizenry, we could really do some amazing things for the town as well as for the press,” Matero said.

A group of locals banded together, formed a steering committee, and in 2014, secured 501(c)(3) status. The Ballantine family donated the building and its contents to the organization, and in 2016, the group received a grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund to restore the property.

The nonprofit called the press and their group the “Mancos Common Press,” after an invention of Benjamin Franklin’s, and a press shop standing at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We decided to call it the Mancos Common Press, almost like it was the Common Press of the West,” said Tami Graham, board president of the organization, in the film.

According to the Mancos Common Press website, the Cranston Press is an 8-foot-tall, single-revolution, big-cylinder “drum” design, with “wooden delivery fingers,” flipping out paper one at a time.

Although the press wasn’t running at first, it luckily had been fairly well-preserved.

“It was pretty much hermetically sealed,” said Matt Neff, an expert on archaic printing presses from the University of Pennsylvania, in the film.

Neff met with Patrick, who introduced him to the press’ various components. And by a stroke of fortune, the press still had ink on its machinery, which would allow it to work again.

“When he sold the newspaper to the Browns in Cortez, he assumed they would use the press the next week to publish the newspaper,” Coppinger said of her father in the film.

But they didn’t, and the space was left as it had been, like a “time capsule,” Neff said. The ink was left in the tray – and because of that they were able to get the rollers and press back up and running.

The project also involved restoring the building itself to its historical form, which required scientific analysis of paint chips and wall materials – and even taking tin ceiling plates to the local car wash to remove paint layers.

The bright yellow and turquoise colors that now grace the site’s walls are the original hues.

The restoration project officially wrapped up last year, and the Mancos Common Press has hosted open houses and other arts-related events since then. While the Cranston Press runs, it’s somewhat unwieldy to operate because of its large size, but the building also houses a few smaller presses, which will be in more regular use.

Graham said in the film that she hopes Mancos can become known for the press they have “revived from the ashes.”

“My hope is that when people hear the name ‘Mancos, Colorado,’ no matter where they live, the first thing that comes to their mind is, ‘Wow, don’t they have a really cool historic press there?’” she said.