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.
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.