Albert Payson Terhune – His Writings and Love of Collies (Part I of II)
By Cheryl Bricker
Many of us read Albert Payson Terhune’s books as a child. The American author and collie breeder won our hearts while absorbed in the adventures of his treasured collies. To understand this extraordinary man, I’ll share a little of his biography.
|Terhune with His Collies, “In Conference.”|
Albert Payson Terhune (1872 – 1942) attended Columbia University where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree and then worked as a reporter for The Evening World. His first wife, Lorraine, died at age 23, four days after giving birth to their daughter also named Lorraine (1898 – 1956). He later married his second wife, Anice. They were known as the Master and Mistress of his Sunnybank Kennels in Wayne, New Jersey where he bred and raised collies. Sunnybank soon became the most famed collie kennels in the U.S.
Terhune first published short stories about his collie, Lad, titled Lad Stories in a variety of well-known general interest magazines. His first novel, published in 1919, was a collection of a dozen stories about Lad, entitled Lad: A Dog. It was a best seller for young children and adults alike and has been reprinted over 80 times. In 1962, the novel was made into a feature film. He wrote an additional 30 novels based on his dogs including two more books about Lad’s antics.
|The Secret Lily Pond|
He was god-like in the 1920’s, 1930’s and early 40’s. His stories were exciting adventures based on all his own dogs that he raised at Sunnybank. The stories were about the puppies, young dogs, mature dogs and the old timers. And when his favorite dogs like Lad, Wolf and Bruce reached the end of their life, they were buried on the Sunnybank grounds. Terhune simply called Sunnybank, The Place. It was built on a wooded hillside encircled in mountains on a lake. He and Anice loved their secret places like the lily pond and the boathouse where Terhune would row out for an afternoon of fishing. The grounds were surrounded by woods of oak where Terhune would hunt.
At the height of Terhune’s popularity, parents would bring their children to Sunnybank to visit with the collies and meet the Master and Mistress. The summer after Lad’s death, 1,700 saddened visitors came to visit Sunnybank to see his grave.
But Terhune was a prolific writer who loved his quiet spaces in his library or at one of his outdoor makeshift desks scattered throughout the property.
|One of Terhune’s Writing Places|
Although he enjoyed the company of the children, they interrupted his writing time, and he felt the children played too rough with the collies which concerned him. He also was upset with the intrusion of all the cars and worried for the welfare of his collies. One of his favorite dogs, Wolf, actually had to herd a group of puppies off the driveway away from careless drivers. Terhune was then forced to put a “No Admittance” sign on the iron gates.
In 1942, Albert Payson Terhune died at Sunnybank. Anice remained there for the next 22 years writing her own books and protecting her husband’s legacy. She continued to greet the children who still loved Terhune’s books and collies.
In 1964, Anice died. Sunnybank went into a charitable foundation and the estate was on the chopping block. Thirty of the 40 acres had been sold. A real estate agent in Pompton Lakes had purchased the last ten acres which included the house, kennels, barn and the gazebo. Those remaining acres were about to become another housing development.
|Terhune’s Sunnybank Home|
Claire Leishman, a woman who loved collies and had visited Anice at Sunnybank, knew something had to be done. Two additional Sunnybank visitors signed on to help. Judy Leathers and Kathy George adored Terhune’s works and helped Leishman launch an assault to rally support for Sunnybank from the locals to stop the development and persuade the township to purchase the site for a park. She also started a nationwide campaign to show the town council members that Sunnybank was a national treasure and people everywhere cared about its survival. With the help of some of the influential townspeople and Leishman’s regular monthly Sunnybank news column, additional donations were raised. With a very close five to four town council vote, Sunnybank was purchased by the township for $145,240.92, and Terhune Memorial Park was born. However, even though the funds were raised to restore the house, the township declined to take on the project and the house and barn were demolished.
|The Ladies of Sunnybank at the Restored Lookout.
From left to right: Kathy George, Kathleen Wakkila, Donna McKoy, Kendra (Donna’s daughter), Diane Kapostasy, Judy Leathers, Marilyn R. Horowitz, Claire K. Leishman and Krissy Marshall, who is holding Ch. Eagleslook Explorer (known to his friends as Hobo)
The group of women and supporters worked tirelessly preserving and restoring Sunnybank. They cleared and marked the graves of the Sunnybank collies, repaired the evening lookout and placed various signs along the grounds. The puppy house has been rebuilt and benches constructed including one honoring the Terhunes and Claire Leishman. They continue to hold fundraisers for additional improvements. The Ladies of Sunnybank singlehandedly saved the Terhune’s legacy.
Check out Part II in the AHDRO June 2013 newsletter to find out how the Ladies of Sunnybank are preserving the park. Learn about the annual meeting called The Gathering, the memorials and how Terhune’s collie bloodlines live on today.