Robert Lee "Sam" Chastain

Updated
09-21-06


Robert Lee 'Sam' ChastainRobert Lee "Sam" Chastain (Rancher and Philanthropist), May 12, 1904-June 9, 1964. Sam was born in Thomas County, Georgia, home of the Thomas County Chastains. His parents were Thomas Mack and Mamie Susan Barwick Chastain. During the depression, Thomas Mack and Mamie moved their family of seven children to Palm Beach County, Florida to farm the rich, black muck lands there. Sam bought a large ranch and raised Brahma cattle. He ranched in western Martin County and northwest Palm Beach County. He also, along with his siblings, formed a produce-brokerage business. However, it was his stock market investments that enabled him to become a philanthropist. He created a foundation that has contributed heavily to southeast Florida causes such as Indian River Community College, Florida Atlantic University, The University of Florida, the Kravis Center for Performing Arts and Norton Museum of Art. Robert's son, Thomas M Chastain, bought and donated the property for Chastain Beach in Martin County, Florida. Sam's lineage from Pierre Chastain the Immigrant is 7-Thomas Mack, 6-Thomas Wright, 5-John Martin, 4-Renny, 3-Peter, 2-Rene, 1-Pierre. Thanks to Eleanor Chastain Griffies for providing some of the above information.


The following article is reprinted from The East Coast of Florida, Personal and Family Records, Volume III, The Southern Publishing Company, Delray Beach, Florida, 1962, pages 110-112 written two years prior to Sam's death. Chastain Central has been unable to locate The Southern Publishing Company for permission. If you have their contact information, we would appreciate receiving it from you!


Now owner of a large cattle ranch in Palm Beach County, Robert Lee Chastain was a leader in the early beginnings of mechanized agriculture in the Everglades. Mr. Chastain is also prominent in the banking and investment business and in the civic affairs of the county and state.

Born in Thomas County, Georgia, he is one of seven children of Thomas Mack and Mamie Susan (Barwick) Chastain, both natives of Thomas County, Georgia. His father was a planter and also operated in the timber and naval stores business.

Robert Lee Chastain graduated from Norman Junior College at Norman Park, Georgia, and from Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, Georgia. Between his school years, in the summer of 1922-23, he went to the Florida Everglades and worked for periods of three months each summer with what was then the Palm Beach Highway and Drainage District, which was engaged in drainage and engineering of development projects in the area. There were no hard roads then and transportation in this area was mainly by boat and on the canals.

After graduating from college Chastain returned to the Glades in September of 1929 and sold and handled farm products for growers as an employee of W. H. Vann, now deceased. In 1931 he became a fifty-fifty partner with Mr. Vann, operating under the name of Vann and Chastain. After a friendly dissolution of the partnership in 1935, he operated as an individual under his own name, R. L., or (as he was better known) "Sam" Chastain.

He had begun to accumulate land in 1932, and now added growing to his merchandising business. This agricultural operation was expanded annually and in 1939 he entered the cattle business also. Having continued to accumulate acreage in the area, at one time he owned 45,000 acres.

In the year 1947 he discontinued the growing of vegetables but continued in the marketing business through two corporations, Chastain Company, Inc. and Florida Brokerage Company, Inc., and carried on this operation through 1956, at which time he dissolved the corporations and retired from the marketing business. He changed his residence to Palm Beach in 1946 and has resided there since then.

During the administration of Spessard Holland as Governor of Florida, Mr. Chastain was appointed to the Board of Commissioners of the then rather inactive Everglades Drainage District, which was founded in 1905. This commission-composed of Jim Beardsley of Clewiston, Dewey W. Hilsabeck of Miami, Jess Durrance of Highlands County, and Mr. Chastain-was the force working with the Federal Government for a number of years, through the United States Corps of Engineers, with the Legislature and the Governor of Florida and with the Federal Works and Appropriations Committees of the United States Senate, to bring to fruition what is now the vast Central and South Florida Flood Control and Conservation District. This activity consumed a period of approximately six years before the first appropriation by the Federal and State Governments.

Mr. Chastain is a member of the Florida State Cattlemen's Association, the Florida State and Palm Beach County Chambers of Commerce, and serves on the Zoning Board of the Town of Palm Beach. In 1942, he became a member of the Board of Directors of the Atlantic National Bank of West Palm Beach-a position he still holds-and is a member of the Trust Investment Committee.

Socially, he is a member of the Everglades Club and the Bath and Tennis Club, both of Palm Beach. He raises horses as a hobby and enjoys horseback riding, fishing and shooting.

He was twice married: first in Tifton, Georgia, in 1933, to Laura Smith Carson, daughter of Keith and Laura (Smith) Carson of Tifton County, Georgia. A son of this marriage, Thomas Mack Chastain, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936. He is a 1960 graduate of Harvard College, where he majored in languages.

Mr. Chastain's second marriage took place in Palm Beach in August of 1955. His wife was Deborah Black, daughter of R. Clifford Black of New York City and Beatrice (Cluett) Black of Troy, New York.

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