By MONICA CANE
If someone told you they lived in the town of Collegeville what would imagine that town to be like? Personally, I picture a bustling town of twenty-something age students filled with Wi-Fi-ready coffee shops, pizzeria’s, movie theaters, clothing stores, specialty shops along with two or three colleges and just an overall active, lit up, young town.
To my understanding, there are five towns in our country that go by the name of Collegeville and while maybe those Collegeville’s located in Minnesota, Indiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania are as I imagine, in Northern California, Collegeville, with its population of approxiametly1,400 people, is a far cry from a bustling, lit up town. Nevertheless, it’s on the map so there has got to be something special about it.
In the mid 1800s, Dr. L. R. Chalmers was one of the first to settle in that area and was instrumental in the building of Morris College, later called San Joaquin College, thus inspiring the town name, Collegeville. Sadly, the college was completely destroyed in a fire and was never rebuilt. However, toward the latter part of the 1800’s the town was considered somewhat booming with its nearly dozen homes, a church, a blacksmith shop, butcher shop and wagon shop along with a saloon and an elementary schoolhouse.
Establishing a handful of homes and businesses gave the town credibility for a time but it is said that the town eventually declined due to the development of trains and automobiles taking people and businesses elsewhere.
Nonetheless, 166 years after Dr. L. R. Chalmers arrival, the population of Collegeville has grown to approximately 1400 people. While there may not be many shops to speak of now other than a local general store, the elementary school of long ago still stands and thrives today with over a 130 students.
The school website www.collegevilleschool.org reveals a bit of the heart of the Collegeville Elementary and community.
“The Collegeville Community has always valued education, community, family, and most importantly its students. Every Friday morning, at the start of the school day, all students, staff, and many parents gather around the flagpole. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited, many honors and announcement are made, and the final activity is the singing of the Collegeville Elementary School Song.”
Another part of Collegeville history that still remains today is Collegeville Cemetery where many settlers dating back to the 19th century are laid to rest. Although officially closed in 1905, the cemetery is still a historical landmark for the town and a reminder of its antiquity.
Just on the outskirts of town is an eatery loved by many town members, El Rancho Inn-Steak & Lobster, known as a “hidden gem.” Town members love the food and as one customer said of eatery, “For the service alone, they should get 5 stars.”
Probably the best known business in Collegeville is Gnekow Family Winery located at 17347 East Gawne Road.
Gnekow’s wine tasting room is open year-round from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. They offer a variety of over 20 wines including their signature wine, Campus Oaks "Old Vine" Zinfandel, which has won numerous gold medals due to its great taste and silky smooth finish. For a nominal fee of $5 visitors can sample the various wines while also learning a little history behind the movie The Chateau Meroux, that was filmed at the vineyard and featured Back to the Future actor, Christopher Lloyd.
While the town of Collegeville, California may not fully reflect the idea of its name, with a good winery, eatery, school and history, it is certainly a little town worth visiting.