The location is a very pretty one, at the junction of the Gardner and Yellowstone Rivers, sandwiched between the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to the North, the Custer/Gallatin National Forest to the West, and the world's first and most famous national park - Yellowstone - to the south.
Historical references to our area date back to as early as 1805. References to the area known as Gardner’s Hole, named for fur trapper Johnson Gardner, date to the mid-1830s. Stories of fantastical features on the landscape spewing steam, and bubbling mud with water hot enough to cook a trout in minutes, huge mountains, vast rivers and lakes full of fish, massive herds of elk and bison– and giant bears!
Not a lot is known about Johnson Gardner. An article about him in a 1903 issue of the Gardiner Wonderland newspaper rated him as “an outlaw and in general a worthless, dissolute character.”
In August 1870, the Washburn-Langford-Doan party named the place Gardiner. The extra ‘i” was likely a phonetic misspelling of Gardner when pronounced by native West Virginia Mountain Man Jim Bridger. Gardiner is the oldest known place name in the region outside of Yellowstone Park.
Our area served as the main gateway to Yellowstone National Park as early as 1872, when the park was established. Gardiner was created to serve the needs of visitors to the park, a role the town continues to play. Gardiner remains the only gateway community with year-round access by personal vehicle to Yellowstone’s northern range and snowmobile and snowcoach access to the interior of the park including Old Faithful during the winter season which runs from mid-December through early March.
The man who could be considered Gardiner’s founding father, James McCartney, first tried to make his home within what are now Yellowstone National Park’s boundaries by operating a hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs for tourists.
Then acting Superintendent of the day, Philatus Norris, voiced his displeasure to Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz, regarding McCartney’s large liquor sales at the hotel in Mammoth. This situation was made even more complicated by the fact that Norris himself had dubbed McCartney Assistant Superintendent of Yellowstone at the time.
Despite Norris’ fears that McCartney might retaliate by burning the buildings or even ambushing and killing him, his effort to subdue the rowdy atmosphere in the Mammoth area took a step forward with a prohibition of liquor sales being added to the park rules and regulations.
...And so, McCartney rented his hotel and other buildings for the upcoming 1880 season to “a responsible party with a family” and left for Gardiner where he could sell “grog.”
Park Street — the east-west running street in Gardiner, Montana that fronts on Yellowstone National Park—has been Gardiner’s most prominent street since James McCartney settled near its east end in late 1879. It has buildings only on its north side, and it runs parallel to the north boundary of Yellowstone National Park. When the town of Gardiner was established, the park’s north boundary was not yet surveyed and this fact caused town builders to crowd their buildings literally up to the park line because they assumed that the boundary was farther south. The park boundary today runs along the north edge of Park Street’s sidewalk, such that a person entering a town building is simultaneously exiting park property.
A History of Park Street that Faces Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana By Lee H. Whittlesey- Yellowstone National Park Historian.
And thus, with the move by McCartney and the creation of a Post Office located conveniently right on the Park boundary line, Gardiner was officially founded in 1880, setting the stage for generations to come.
The town has survived a rough and tumble existence of gold rushes, the railroad and destructive fires. A tough little frontier town, it fed and sheltered miners, entertained early soldiers who ran Yellowstone Park and learned to host the pioneer visitor.
In 1883, the Northern Pacific Railway’s extended its Park Branch Line south from Livingston as far as Cinnabar, a railroad stop just north of Gardiner. In 1903, the line was extended to Gardiner, and Cinnabar disappeared. Rail service to Gardiner continued until 1948.
Despite its nearly mile- high altitude, (just 21 feet shy), Gardiner enjoys surprisingly mild year-round weather. November to March snowfall averages less than 5 inches per month while the surrounding areas of Jardine, Bear Creek, Mammoth Hot Springs and of course the Lamar Valley and the Park’s interior receive significantly more. This makes Gardiner an ideal base camp for Cross country skiing and snowshoeing excursions in the surrounding mountains.