Robert Sparks Walker is best known as the founder of the Chattanooga Audubon Society and for his foresight in setting aside their Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary, popularly known as Audubon Acres. Chattanooga Audubon’s acquisition of the Maclellan Island property during Walker’s lifetime is sometimes added as a brief footnote to that achievement. His literary career began 44 years before the founding of Chattanooga Audubon but is rarely mentioned. The author hopes to preserve a record of Walker’s achievements as a poet, editor, publisher and author, and to provoke new interest his published works.
Brief Biographical Sketch
Robert Sparks Walker (1878-1960), was born in the log cabin on his father’s farm, the property now known as Audubon Acres, and is buried near the cabin, with his wife Sarah Elberta Clark (1892 -1924) and son Robert Sparks Walker, Jr (1907 – 1915). Robert Sparks Walker and Elberta Clark were married in 1904. Elberta’s death made Walker the single parent of their second son, Wendell Clark Walker (1909 – 1988), then aged fourteen years. In 1960, Walker suffered a heart attack while leading a nature walk on the Audubon Acres property. He was taken to his home where he received medical care. He died the following day at age 82.
Significance as a Writer
Robert Sparks Walker began writing freelance articles while still in high school. At age 22, he acquired fifty percent ownership of the Southern Fruit Grower magazine in 1900. He served as editor and publisher of that magazine until its sale in 1921. He served as Nature Editor of Flower Grower 1923 – 1934 and had a weekly nature column in the Chattanooga Times beginning in 1933.
His first published book, Anchor Poems, appeared in 1925, followed by a second book of verse, My Fathers Farm, in 1927. Walker had a growing reputation as an author and editor when, at age 53, he published Torchlights to the Cherokees (Macmillan, 1931). The Pulitzer Prize nomination for that book accelerated his career. He spent several weeks examining relevant materials in the files of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (Andover-Harvard Theological Library) to complete Torchlights to the Cherokees.
Walker followed Torchlights to the Cherokees with a novel, a collection of short stories, two additional books of poetry, and a series of booklets promoting the City of Chattanooga and economic growth in the city and the surrounding area. He returned to book length nonfiction with Lookout: The Story of a Mountain which begins with the geology of the mountain and continues through human habitation.
His final book length work, As the Indians Left It includes charming stories of childhood life on the farm and documents the early days of the Chattanooga Audubon Society and the sanctuary. Local historians have disputed his statements about the history of the property and the log cabin, and artifacts related to Native American occupation of the land, but not Walker’s significance as a conservationist and author. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation gives an annual award for lifetime achievement in conservation which is named the Robert sparks Walker Award.
Walker also hosted a weekly radio show. He produced “illustrated slide talks,” loaned to schools and civic groups, and helped produce at least one nature film.
The author searched the data base of the Chattanooga Public Library and the stacks of the Local History Department thereof. The “Ask a Librarian” feature of the Tennessee State Library and Archives web page revealed a wealth of information at that institution. The author also examined some of the materials available at Audubon Acres.
Finally, the author used the web site https://www.worldcat.org to search for materials in other libraries. Since many of the works are out of print, each entry includes a partial list of libraries where they are available. The author organized the list by date in order to establish a timeline for the works.
The librarians at the Local History Department of the Chattanooga Public Library and those at the Tennessee State Library and Archives were gracious and helpful. Bonnie Kring of the Chattanooga Audubon Society Board of Directors (History Committee) reviewed an early draft of the manuscript and offered suggestions. Members of the Chattanooga Writers Guild, Poetry and Nonfiction critique group, reviewed the introductory material. Their suggestions were particularly helpful. Any errors or omissions are solely the author’s responsibility.
Works by Robert Sparks Walker
Published books by Robert Sparks Walker form the primary focus of this work. A complete description of the thousands of pages of magazine and newspaper articles, personal papers and correspondence is beyond its scope, though a few particularly significant such works are included. A few secondary sources by Mary Bell Fisher, E. Raymond Evans, Wyman R. Greene and Andra Walker Moscowitz (writing as Alexandra Walker Clark) are included.