James Talmage “Tokey” Walker developed a strong work ethic at an early age. He delivered newspapers and sorted dirty diapers at the Swan Laundry to save enough money to attend the University of Alabama, where he hoped to earn a law degree. The collapse of the banks during the Great Depression saw his savings and his educational aspirations lost and the direction of his life changed.
Inspired by his father’s cousins, pioneers of southern aviation, he took up flying. During World War II, he served as a civilian flight instructor for the United States Navy at the University of Georgia. He and his wife later moved to Marietta, Ga., where Mr. Walker was a production test pilot for the B-29 bomber.
In October 1945, the Walkers moved to Clearwater at the invitation of the late Robert J. Word, who had been a flight instructor in Georgia. They went into business together, renting and selling airplanes and giving flying lessons. When the government discontinued underwriting the cost of teaching war veterans how to fly, the company was converted and they began constructing window frames out of aluminum.
The business was renamed Metal Industries, now known as J. T. Walker Industries.
In the 60s, James Walker purchased a plot of land in Brooksville and began raising Charolais cattle, which he later converted into a commercial nursery years later. In the mid-80s, he constructed a massive 3-story tree house on the property for his grandchildren, and included bedrooms, bathrooms and even a kitchen.
Mr. Walker was involved with the Clearwater YMCA and the Lions Club and was a founding member of the Springtime City Kiwanis Club. He was chairman of the Morton Plant Hospital Charity Ball in 1989 and was awarded the Golden Flame Philanthropy Award in 2000 in recognition of the donation he made in memory of his late wife, Sarah, who passed away in 1996.
James Walker passed away in 2003.
After his death, his property in Brooksville was abandoned, though it is still owned by J. T. Walker Industries. The buildings on the property have been vandalized throughout the years, for example, police arrived for training drills to find two men stealing copper wiring in 2007. A few years later, marijuana was found growing inside one of the greenhouses on the property.
On October 11, 2015, it was discovered that the treehouse was torn down, most likely by the owners as it was a huge liability issue.