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The Complete Nevada Traveler by David W. Toll
Gardnerville Travel Info
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Established in 1879 to serve the farmers of the Carson Valley, Gardnerville has long been famous for the Basque restaurants at the south side of downtown.
Established in 1879 to serve the farmers of the Carson Valley, Gardnerville has long been famous for the Basque restaurants at the south side of downtown.

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Description and History of
by David W. Toll
Gardnerville Nevada
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The Carson Valley is one of the earliest-settled, richest, and most productive of the statešs agricultural regions. In spring, summer, and autumn, when the valley is bursting with life, the vast irrigated tracts are a green velvet patchwork quilt upon which the stacks of baled hay stand like giant cheese, and cottonwoods and poplars rise up like flashing green flames. The meadows are sopped with water from the Sierra, fat and languid cattle browse placidly everywhere.
Welcome to Gardnerville Nevada
Welcome to Gardnerville Nevada
Far from being twins, these sibling towns at the center of the Carson Valley have different fathers.

Gardnerville is a farm town established in the 1860s to serve the agricultural population in a more conveniently central location than longer-established Genoa at the foot of the Sierra. Minden is the railroad's child, born in 1905 as a planned and platted subdivision with a brick depot, a central park and a grid of quiet streets.

Douglas County Museum
Douglas County Museum
Two near neighbors along the east side of Main Street epitomize the changes that have transformed Minden and Gardnerville over the past generation. Bently Nevada supplies the world market with vibration monitoring equipment from its headquarters in the old Minden Creamery. In 1964, Bently was the first high-profile, high-tech company to relocate from California to Nevada. A slow migration of high-tech companies continues, as at the same time Tahoe casino workers, unable to afford life at the Lake, have migrated down the Kingsbury Grade to buy houses in the Gardnerville Ranchos. These new populations of well-paid, highly educated people have remade the character of the Carson Valley. This transformation is typified by the Carson Valley Inn a short distance away, a modern new hotel, with highly manicured grounds, casino, meeting rooms and gourmet restaurant.

Only a few years ago the frowsier, more picturesque Basque restaurants (clustered near the south end of town) provided Gardnerville with such fame as it enjoys beyond the confines of the valley. These Basque family-style eating places were originally established to serve the large population of sheepherders from the Pyrenees who wandered with the bands of sheep. In Gardnerville, as in many of northern Nevada's towns, Basques established boarding-house hotels where the sheepherders could stay between jobs or for a two-week vacation. For the non-English-speaking sheepherders the hotels were a special convenience, as well as being inexpensive and hearty feeders.

Basque Restuarants, downtown Gardnerville Nevada Basque Restuarants, downtown Gardnerville Nevada
In time, other townfolk came to appreciate the modestly priced suppers served at these workingmen's hotels, and today dining out at one of them is considered a substantial treat. Most of them are still small family operations, with mom and dad supervising a work force of sons, daughters, aunts, and nephews. They still reserve the first serving for the Basque boarders who have rooms upstairs. All of them have bars, and except in the peak summer months, the clientele is largely local.

Historian Inn, Gardnerville Nevada
Historian Inn, Gardnerville Nevada
The J-T and the Overland have deserved reputations for excellent food. Skip the Rob Roys and the Coors Lites and have a Picon Punch. It's an Old World cocktail which leaves the mind clear as the knees turn to jelly and the feet turn to lead.

The venerable Sharkey's has been sold, and the venerable Sharkey himself has passed on, his wonderful memorabilia collections auctioned away. Boxing, rodeo, Indians and the circus -- all gone though the new owners vow they're maintaining the prime rib tradition. The Adaven Hotel across the street has been refurbished as the comfortable Historian Inn with suites and large rooms. Lampe Park, south of town, has tennis courts, ball fields and playgrounds. The golf course at the Carson Valley Country Club two miles south was seriously damaged by the floods of '97, as was the popular Basque restaurant there. Both are now restored to health.

Minden adjoins Gardnerville to the north. These once-separate communities have fused together the way Reno and Sparks have, and to visitors the demarcation line is of little importance. Nevertheless, Minden is quite distinctive, a tidy turn-of-the-century picture postcard. It was established when the V&T's profitable Tonopah and Goldfield traffic was snatched away by the more direct S.P. spur through Hazen. The V&T then extended a line south to harvest the Carson Valley trade.

By this time, however, the only feasible right of way had long been the property of the Dangberg family. The Dangbergs were quite agreeable to the railroad laying tracks across their ground -- if the railroad would build its depot on Dangberg land at the north edge of Gardnerville.

Tractors and Kids in Gardnerville Nevada
Tractors and Kids in Gardnerville Nevada.
This the railroad did, and when the small brick depot was built a two-block business street had been staked and named Esmeralda, with a large park separating it from the neat grid of residential streets.

This tiny enclave of Americana retains much of its original appeal. Downtown workers who eat their lunches in the park sometimes get up noontime softball games that anyone can join in. Except for mild excitements like this, Minden is magnificently quiet; on a spring day you can hear the buzzing of the bees in the gardens and the shouts of children in the schoolyard three blocks over.

Minden is at the intersection of three of the most scenic highways in the west and is the closest Nevada community to a fourth. Thus there are restaurants, motels and all services for travelers.

Nevada 88 takes off from the north end of Minden for the California state line, where it becomes California 88 and climbs into the high summits of the Sierra. It squeezes through Carson Pass and drops down the other side into the Mother Lode foothills. Nevada 207 is the Kingsbury Grade, which climbs the sheer eastern face of the Sierra Nevada to drop into the Tahoe Basin at Stateline. This is the route of the Pony Express and of the Overland Stage ("Keep your seat, Horace, I'll get you there on time!") although much smoothed, leveled and straightened from the narrow original. You'll get the airliner's view of the great valley as you soar upward above the cloud level, really quite thrilling.

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