The Atlanta History Center has a single, thin folder dedicated to Troy G. Chastain.
Inside it is an obituary with Aug. 26, 1945 written in pencil and two sheets of personal remembrances dated 1985 by his daughter-in-law. They are about his relatives who fought in the Civil War.
The final item is a small piece of paper torn from a legal pad, on which is written, “Chastain Park is named for Troy G. Chastain.”
That is the only mention of the connection between the former North Fulton Park and the man whose name now adorns it.
The obituary notes he was a member of the Fulton County Commission and served on the parks committee. He was actually the chair of the parks and agricultural committee. It is through that assignment his name came to be associated with the largest park in the city.
Voters elected Troy G. Chastain, the president of the Atlanta Chemical Company, to the Fulton County Commission in 1938. He happened to own 147 acres around what is today Lake Forrest Drive and Long Island Road.
Going back to 1900, the county had operated a 300-acre prison farm and almshouses near his property. Prisoners and poor Black women farmed corn and cabbage in the area that is now the golf course. The produce fed all of the prisoners in the county.
The buildings that today house The Galloway School and the Chastain Arts Center were the almshouses, one for whites and Blacks.
According to a newspaper article in the Atlanta Constitution, the land had long been used for farming, at least as far back as the Civil War, when Washington P. Livingston owned it.
Before 1821, it was in the Muskogee nation. It was home to a village along the bank of Nancy Creek.
In 1939, as the parks and agricultural committee chair, Troy Chastain proposed establishing a parks and recreation system. He identified five parks and a botanical garden that could be built on land owned by the county at little expense.
One was North Fulton Park.
He believed the system could stem the rise in juvenile delinquency. A headline in a 1939 article on the proposal read, “Parks Program to Help Youth Shun Crime Asked.”
Chastain is quoted in it, saying, “Fulton County could not make a greater, more lasting contribution to its own citizenship than by providing recreation and training under the leadership of a trained corps of … leaders.
“A program like that would do more to curtail juvenile delinquency than any other thing we could do.”
The county had already started working on the park using Works Progress Administration funds under Chastain.
He made other contributions to the former North Fulton Park. For example, he is credited with the idea for the amphitheater, securing $40,000 in federal funds for its construction. He got matching funds from Fulton County.
According to Susan Kessler Barnard in her book on local history “Buckhead: A Place for All Time,” Chastain also donated the land for the horse park. When the city of Atlanta tried to sell it some years ago, it learned if the land were to be used for anything other than horseback riding, it reverted to the Chastain estate, according to Barnard’s book.
Chastain stepped down from the county commission in 1942. In his final act as a commissioner, he welcomed the new members by encouraging them to continue providing recreational opportunities for Fulton County’s youth.
He died of a heart attack in 1945. He was 60 years old. At the time of his death, he was the executive director of the Atlanta city troops of the Boy Scouts, according to his obituary.
The Chastain Park Conservancy — the not-for-profit organization dedicated to the park’s stewardship — is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the county naming the park in Chastain’s honor with a challenge. It did so on Sept. 25, 1946.
It is asking individuals to walk, run or wheel around the park 75 times before Sept. 26. It supports their efforts to keep the park clean, safe and green. Visit chastainparkconservancy.org to learn more.
It is a fitting tribute to the man who saw a better use for a county prison farm.