As traffic through Genoa began to slow in the 1870s, Lawrence Gilman noticed that fewer people were staying in his Nevada Hotel. Believing that the East Fork of the Carson River was to become a more important travel route due to mining at Aurora and Bodie, he purchased the supposedly haunted Kent House (originally located between Genoa and Walley's Hot Springs) and moved it to 7.5 acres of land purchased from John & Mary Gardner. The Kent House was remodeled as a hotel, with a blacksmith shop and saloon added. It reopened as the Gardnerville Hotel, named for the original landowner, and the community of the same name was born. It quickly became an important feed stop for those travelling between Carson City and Bodie.

For the first years of its existence, Gardnerville grew very slowly. By 1885, farming became a staple industry, and saloons, hotels, and shops were opened to serve the town. By the turn of the century, Gardnerville was the economic center of Carson Valley. Many immigrants, notably Danish and Basque, arrived in town and the latter were well known as sheepherders and later owners of inns and restaurants.

Gardnerville maintained a relatively quiet, agricultural existence for many years, though in the later part of the 20th century large tracts of land were transformed into housing subdivisions as Gardnerville and neighboring Minden became bedroom communities for expanding Carson City. Today, Gardnerville's population rests at only about 5600, but neighboring developments bring that number to more than triple. Several historic buildings line Main Street, some dating to Gardnerville's earliest days as a little stopover point for travelers.