Walker, Robert Sparks (1878-1960)
Robert Sparks Walker, a naturalist, author, poet, local historian, horticulturalist, and editor, was born on 1878 February 4 in a log cabin in Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a child, Walker was educated at Walnut Grove Elementary School. He earned his undergraduate degree from Maryville College, and, in 1905, Grant University in Chattanooga, Tennessee awarded him a law degree. In 1904 he married Elberta Clark, and the couple had two children, Robert Sparks Walker, Jr. and Wendell Clark Walker. In 1915, tragedy struck the family as their oldest son, Robert Sparks Walker, Jr. was killed in an automobile accident. The shock of witnessing this accident affected his parents deeply, especially Elberta Walker whose health declined steadily until her death nine years later in 1924.
Robert Sparks Walker was a prolific author, penning many books, including State Flowers and State Birds: Being an Authentic Record of the Official Flowers and Birds of All the States in America, Lookout: The Story of a Mountain, and Torchlights to the Cherokees: The Brainerd Mission, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Letters, Drama & Music in 1931. In addition to books, Walker authored journal and magazine articles, poems, and newspaper columns, which have appeared in more that 600 publications, including the New York Times and Nature Magazine. Most of his writing focuses on natural history, botany, and horticulture. For more than twenty-five years, Walker wrote a nature column for the Sunday edition of the Chattanooga Daily Times.
In 1944, Walker helped found a local Audubon Society which was originally named in his honor, but was later changed to the Chattanooga Audubon Society at his request. He was also president of the Tennessee State Horticultural Society, a life member of the Tennessee Academy of Science, and involved in the preservation of other Chattanooga landmarks, such as Maclellan Island, which became wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the Chattanooga Audubon Society. Walker devoted a much of his life to the development of the Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary, home to Spring Frog Cabin, where he was born. The cabin is also the birthplace of the Cherokee naturalist Spring Frog in 1754, and was one of Walker's favorite places. For years he spent nearly every day there, regardless of the weather. Mr. Walker died on 1960 September 26 after suffering a heart attack while walking in the Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary. He is buried next to Spring Frog Cabin in Audubon Acres.
CitationChattanooga Audubon Society. “Audubon Acres: Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary.” Accessed April 3, 2020. https://www.chattanoogaaudubon.org/audubon-acres.html.
CitationClark, Alexandra Walker. Chattanooga’s Robert Sparks Walker : the Unconventional Life of an East Tennessee Naturalist Charleston, SC: Natural History Press, 2013.
CitationGaston, Kay Baker. “Gaston: The Spring Frog Cabin at Audubon Acres.” Times Free Press. January 7, 2018. https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/opinion/columns/story/2018/jan/07/gastonspring-frog-cabaudubacres/460577/.
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Scope and Contents This collection includes correspondence, financial records, scrapbooks, and other personal papers as well as manuscripts and drafts of books, articles, and poetry authored by Robert Sparks Walker, a Chattanooga naturalist, writer, poet, and local historian dating from 1896 to 1962. Highlights of this collection include the manuscript and dummies for Walker's Pulitzer Prize nominated book, Torchlights to the Cherokees: The Brainerd Mission.