History of Carson Valley

Carson Valley’s Rich History

John Reese settled Genoa, the oldest town in Nevada, in 1851. Within the main town square, you’ll find Mormon Station State Historic Park, the Courthouse Museum of Genoa, and the Oldest Bar in Nevada . . . still a popular watering hole to this day. Within easy walking distance of any of the lodging establishments are boutique stores and shops, a general store, a winery, and restaurants, as well as an art gallery – all within the quiet, peaceful small town that is Genoa.

Gardnerville got its start in 1879, when Lawrence Gilman purchased the Kent House and had it moved from its location south of Genoa to a seven-acre parcel of land on the east fork of the Carson River.  There, near the site of what is today the J.T. Basque Bar and Dining Room, the building was converted to a hotel. A blacksmith shop and saloon were added. The hotel was the center of the hay- and grain-producing community that became Gardnerville, named for Gilman’s friend John Gardner.

H.F. Dangberg, Jr. established Minden in 1905 to fulfill his vision of a European-style planned community designed around a town square (Minden Park). Minden was named after a German town near the birthplace of Dangberg’s father, H.F. Dangberg, Sr., a pioneer in Carson Valley and founder of the Dangberg Land and Livestock Company. The V&T Railroad’s extension of a rail line to Carson Valley, with Minden as the terminus, was key to Dangberg’s plans for the town’s future. The railroad spurred the growth of Carson Valley into a hub of agriculture. Located in the heart of Douglas County, Nevada, Carson Valley has changed from a small farming community to one of the fastest-growing areas in Nevada.

Topaz lake was originally called Alkali Lake, a very small and shallow body of water noticed by explorer Jedidiah Smith and party. Later, rancher Thomas Brinley Rickey, the “Cattle King”, began diverting some of the West Walker River into the lake that was now on his land. This was helpful for irrigation and also pleased local fishermen. He attempted to expand the lake, but water rights disputes brought construction to a halt. Litigation was settled in 1919 and though Rickey passed away not long after, his dream eventually came to fruition. The name however, needed an upgrade. As it stood, Alkali Lake was no longer appropriate once the reservoir was filled with the crisp, clean waters of the Sierra. It was eventually decided to rename it Topaz Lake, which Rickey’s wife Jennie chose in the late 1800s after the fall color of the leaves on the beautiful local aspen trees. Today, Topaz is a smorgasbord for outdoor recreators! 

These four communities make up Carson Valley and there is much more to the region’s colorful history. Even the name Carson Valley has an interesting past! Read all about the evolution of the valley on our blog.