Weather is one of the forces of nature that remains largely beyond the control of humans.
Flood channels, dams, sea walls, etc., help to mitigate some of the effects of weather, but events like hurricanes and tornados strike pretty much where they please. Mankind is often reduced to spectator status, letting nature run its natural course.
And so it was that weather conditions, abnormal though they were, struck this area approximately 150 years ago. In the process the weather changed the course of the development of Southern California and, in particular, that of Monrovia.
An unusually wet winter of 1861-1862 caused some of the worst floods the area had ever known. From Dec. 24 to Jan. 17 it rained continuously. This onslaught of flooding was followed by two years of little to no rain, a period that came to be called the Great Drought.
Prior to this time the area was known for its cattle ranches, and large ranch owners balked at selling their land as newcomers migrated to the area, drawn in part by the discovery of gold in northern California.
The large cattle herds yielded hides and tallow for the ranchers, making them very prosperous, so they did not want to jeopardize their thriving businesses by selling off the land. However, not only were thousands of cattle lost during the month of constant rain, but the lack of water and subsequent loss of feed wiped out entire herds during the following years.
The cattle barons watched as their herds were decimated by the rain and the ensuing drought, and their debts began to mount. Unable to pay property taxes many were forced into bankruptcy. This put an effective end to the cattle raising industry in the region.
Into the picture strolls "Lucky" Baldwin. Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin made most of his fortune through mining investments (his luck in acquiring these led to his nickname). Using that fortune he purchased 63,000 acres in what is now Arcadia and Monrovia, much of it from the old Rancho Santa Anita, in 1875.
bought 240 acres from Baldwin in 1883 for $30,000. Additional acreage was sold to Edward F. Spence, John D. Bicknell, James F. Crank and J.F. Falvey. These five men combined their holdings to form the Monrovia Land and Water Co. in 1886. With the completion of the Santa Fe Railroad to the area in the late 1870s, the stage was set for land speculation and development.
An interesting side note to this development was the issue of water. As a result of the drought of the 1860s, water resources were developed in the area, one reason why to this day Monrovia does not need to import all of the water it uses from outside sources. Spurring on the sale of land and the subsequent speculation that accompanied it was the promise of free water to those purchasing property.
The devastation brought on by the recent drought had not been forgotten.