He was ambitious, hard-working and resented the name “Lucky.” He came from humble, poor pioneer parents in the Ohio wilderness. He always looked for ways to make money. In his youth, he convinced his father to let him take some cows to market. His father said he could earn some money, if he sold the cows for more than a certain expected price. On the night before the sale, he fed his cows salt and lots of water. Cows weighed more, so Elias made an extra $12.
When he and his wife Sara and young daughter Clara came across country toward California, he loaded his wagon with provisions other travelers would buy. Thus, he was one of the few making money as he traveled.
He was well invested in the stock market, but one of his investments was losing money. He told his stockbroker to sell when the stock reached his original purchase price. While he was traveling abroad, his stockbroker couldn’t sell the stock because Elias had not left him the key to the safe. By the time Elias returned, his stock rose in considerable value and he had made a large sum of money. His entrepreneurial wheeling and dealing was matched only by his marital and extramarital exploits! When Elias first saw Rancho Santa Anita, he had just become richer from the sale of Ophir mine stock in the Comstock Load. He just had to purchase this beautiful land. He did so for $200,000, in 1875. Baldwin eventually owned 46,000 acres of San Gabriel Valley land, but it was his Santa Anita homesite upon which he lavished his attention. He hired close to 200 men in the first years as wells, reservoirs and irrigation systems were designed and completed. Land was prepared for tillage and miles of fencing erected for protection.
By 1878, 1200 acres had been set out in fruit and nut trees, 300 acres in vineyard and extensive nurseries established to hold future stock. Thirty or more buildings were erected ranging from stables, barns, and boarding houses to the elegant guest house known as “the Cottage”. Specimen trees and shrubs were imported from around the world and placed around the homesite. Peafowl were imported from India to enhance the ambience. Little did he know that his vision was contributing to a perfect Arboretum site!