In light of the upcoming visit from a Harvard psychologist who will discuss dreams and other problem-solving phenomena which occur during states of sleep, I offer the local story about supernatural predictions which pointed directly to the development and worldwide impact of the city of Oak Ridge:
There was a prophet in Robertsville. Yes, right around the turn of the 20th Century, one farmer’s life underwent such a transformation that his community nicknamed him “The Prophet.”
It began in the late 1880s when a young man brought his new wife up the Emery Road and claimed a piece of property with a cold water spring for his new home. Over the years they built cabins and barns and planted an orchard. They had five children: one boy and four girls.
With only primitive medical doctors and treatments available at the time, suddenly the youngest daughter contracted diphtheria and died. The wife was devastated, and eventually she packed up and took the remaining children with her to Arkansas.
Sometimes people turn to the Lord for comfort in a time of trouble, and that is what this farmer did. He began to take long walks praying in the woods. One day while on one of those long prayer walks, he was suddenly interrupted by what he called a “thunderous voice.” The voice told him if he would lay with his head on the ground for 40 nights that God would tell him the future of his land. This must have seemed like a crazy thing to do, but people in the Bible were inspired to do things much more unusual than this.
So for forty nights the farmer did it. The 1900 census taker couldn’t find anyone at his home and left him out of the census. He suffered hunger and freezing temperatures but stayed to do what he felt he was to do. When the time had passed the man emerged from the woods. He began traveling around his community telling outlandish stories of having had visions and of hearing God talk to him. He began to predict the future naming the source of his “revelations” as being after the fashion of the prophets of the Bible. Some people were scared of him, others mocked him, but others believed his stories. The people began calling him “The Prophet.”
Within 18 months, the first of this farmer’s predictions came true. He had said that a railroad line would expand into his community, and in 1902, it happened. The L&N Railroad, which tried to go through Clinton but met citizen opposition, changed their minds and put the railroad where John had said. He predicted other specific events, an invention that could carry freight and people through the air, lime to be used as fertilizer, and a huge explosion. He told how his community would go from a rural farm community to a city of thousands, with factories, administrative buildings, and constant activity. He said that his community would help win that war.
As the years passed, the farmer married again, and his new wife brought her children to live on the farm. Then the farmer had a new son by her. The farm was a lively place again.
When World War I began, he and his neighbors paid close attention to see if the predictions would come true. This was difficult in a day when there were no phones, no television or radio, few newspapers, and little mail. But during the war, pictures of fighter planes were shown which fulfilled his vision about an invention carrying people and freight.
Then another of his predictions happened—people began to die who he had said would not be alive when the visions became a reality. A plague of tuberculosis went through the community in 1914-1915. His daughter Georgia caught the illness and died. Some of his neighbors such as Joe Pyatt, Frank Turnbill, Dick Taylor’s wife, and others all died from the plague too. Then the farmer himself got sick and died.
As the community watched, the war ended. This pre-Oak Ridge community called Robertsville had not helped to win the war. His widow went on trying to survive the best she could. The predictions of the farmer were forgotten.
During the 40 years following the farmer’s first predictions, things changed greatly in the world. Knowledge of physics expanded and technological advances were made, while the political climate on the other side of the world stirred with unrest. In 1939, another great war began. The people of the community remembered the farmer’s predictions. Some of them joked about it while others began to tell the farmer’s visions to the new generation. Few were really concerned about it though.
Until suddenly in the fall of 1942, every household received a letter from the U.S. War Department informing them that the government was taking their land from them for the war effort. They had about three weeks to move whatever they could take in that amount of time. A great grief fell upon the entire community as they suffered the loss of all they loved and owned except for a few trinkets of furniture and household goods.
The war department built a new city here, and that city is Oak Ridge, Tenn. They created the crucial component for the first-ever atomic bomb. Though 100,000 lives were ended when the bombs were dropped in Japan, millions of lives were saved because the war came to a screeching halt. The soldiers who had survived came home and citizens who were at risk of torture were free again. Through the work of that new city, all the predictions of the farmer happened just as he said they would. It was then that this farmer, John Hendrix, became known as “The Prophet of Oak Ridge.”
Now consider this: Joel 2:28 in the Bible points to dreams, visions, and prophetic revelations as being what many Christians consider some of the ways that God speaks to man. Many Christians today believe that God still speaks to us through His Word, through dreams and visions, in quiet whispers, and in many other mysterious ways.
Do you believe this, and will you listen?
Myra Mansfield and her husband have developed the John Hendrix Memorial Prayer Walk. This half-mile nature trail which meanders beside Hendrix Creek has eight trail markers that tell the story of “The Prophet of Oak Ridge” along with other local history. The trailhead is located on Hendrix Drive across from Hampshire Court. For more information visit www.hendrixprayerwalk.com.