This blog post was authored by Haley McCullough, an intern in the Library’s Special Collections unit from the UTC Department of English in Fall 2018.
Born this week in 1878, Robert Sparks Walker cultivated a love of the natural world while living on his father’s 100-acre farm near the Tennessee-Georgia state line on the eastern side of Chattanooga. His love of nature would become Walker’s life’s work. After graduating with a law degree from Grant University (which is now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), he followed his true calling and, in 1900, became the editor of the Southern Fruit Grower magazine, which reached thousands of Americans throughout the region and elsewhere in the United States. He held this position for 21 years. After retiring from the magazine business, Walker focused on his writing. He penned thousands of articles, short stories, and poetry over his lifetime. His most famous works are Lookout: The Story of a Mountain and Torchlights to the Cherokees: The Brainerd Mission, the latter being nominated for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for History in 1931. His most lasting work, however, is not in writing. Walker founded the Chattanooga Audubon Society and transformed his childhood farm into the Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary, now known as Audubon Acres.
Robert Sparks Walker’s humility, faith, and reverence for the natural world are contagious and one can easily see that his writing reflects his true feelings for the pastoral. In his writings, one can see his love of nature, or naturalism, seep through every word and line. He was sending a message to his readers so that they could truly appreciate the world around them and all living things in it. This universal lesson transcends time to speak to all people, even in this age of technological progress. The love of nature does not take away from our way of life but enhances it. Regardless of our technological advancements, Robert Sparks Walker’s life lessons endures today because nature is an important part of daily life and without it, mankind cannot truly be whole. Voice of a Naturalist: Life Lessons from the Writings of Robert Sparks Walker is an homage to the influential Robert Sparks Walker and his place in our city’s history. These works are a small representation of the primary materials housed in Special Collections, which is located on the 4th floor of the UTC Library.