WAYNE, NJ – Over the last year, Paul Bastante of Silk City Films has been to every corner of Wayne Township, interviewing locals, experts, archivists and historians for his documentary: “Hills and Valleys: A Journey Through Wayne.” He’s become a historian himself and a huge fan of the beauty of Wayne. “There’s so much about this town that so many don’t know about,” said Bastante. “Take Sunnybank, for example.” The filmmaker is referring to Terhune Memorial Park which sits on the eastern bank of Pompton Lake. “It’s one of the most magical places in Wayne and very few people come here to enjoy it.”
The stretch of State Route 202 between the Hamburg Turnpike and the border of Oakland is Terhune Drive, and those who travel the road regularly pass Terhune Memorial Park, but unless you turn into the entrance and take the winding drive down to the park itself, the ‘magic’ remains hidden behind the trees.
Sunnybank is the former home of one of Wayne’s most famous residents: Albert Payson Terhune. “He was affectionately referred to as “Bert” or “A.P.T.” by his family and friends,” said Bastante, “ and is remembered throughout history for three things: His writing, his collies and this land.”
Bastante wandered through the park, pointing out the special places: Where the Terhune house once stood; Gravestones of the famous Terhune dogs as well as the author’s favorite spots. While he meandered through the grounds, Bastante explained who Albert Terune was: “He was the son of Presbyterian minister Edward Payson Terhune and Mary Virginia Terhune, who was a famous author in her own right, writing a variety of books under the pen name Marian Harland. She was like the Martha Stewart of her time,” explained Bastante. “She wrote novels but was better known for her cookbooks.” Mary Terhune’s best-selling book was called: Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery, that was full of recipes and advice on how to be a better housewife.
“Bert’s mom had an incredible work ethic, that she passed on to her son. Bert would sometimes write eleven hours a day for weeks at a time, and some say he walked twenty miles a day,” said Bastante. “He was also one of the most famous Rough-Collie breeders in the world and this park, back in his time, always had dogs running around it.”
Terhune wrote several novels and short stories for magazines, but it was a suggestion from his Red Book Magazine editor, Ray Long, that gave the author the idea to write the stories that made him famous. “One of Bert’s favorite dogs was Lad, who was always a bit aloof toward strangers,” said Bastante. “But for some reason when Long came to visit, Lad became affectionate toward him, and during one of his visits, Long jokingly suggested Terhune write stories about the dogs, and the rest is history.”
Lad: A Dog was a collection of short stories that Terhune had published in various magazines and was put together in novel form in 1919 by the author to fulfill an obligation to his publisher. The book eventually sold over a million copies with seventy re-prints and at least six international translations. Warner Brothers made it into a movie in 1962, twenty years after Terhune’s death.
“His dogs had become so popular, that people would just show up here to meet the dogs that were in his stories,” said Bastante. “It was said that the Terhunes didn’t need a doorbell, because when cars pulled into the drive, the collies would all come out to greet whoever had come.”
The documentarian was standing over the grave of one of Terhune’s dogs named Jean. “Jean was one of these ‘greeter’ dogs and one day a careless driver pulled in and when Jean came out to greet him, she was run over by the car and killed. At that point, Terhune had enough and installed a gate and wouldn’t allow people to just drive onto his property.”
Throughout the nine-acre park are the original burial spots of Terhune’s favorite dogs. Lad’s grave is prominent with a large sign since he was most famous, but if you search them out, you will see the original faded concrete gravestones for Jean, Bruce: “The Dog without a fault,” Wolf, Bear, Gyp, Meg, Bauble, Bigboy and more.
In August of every year, an event is held at Sunnybank called The Gathering. “It’s a convention of a sort for Collie breeders and owners,” said Bastante. “The park is taken over for the weekend with tents set up everywhere and collies all around. Most of the Collies alive today come from the lines of dogs that Bert bred right here.”
More of the history and stories of Albert Terhune and his dogs are told in Bastante’s Wayne documentary which will premiere on the first weekend of November at the Rosen Performing Arts Center located at the Wayne YMCA.
Editor’s note: The first showing of the film on Sauturday, Novermber 2 is already full, and only a few of the free tickets remain for the Sunday matinee showing.
Silk City Films is arranging for other showings later on in November. However, you don’t have to wait for the documentary to come out to understand the beauty of Terhune Memorial park. One visit and you will see why it’s so special.
Dr. Bob Gordon, a veterinarian who lives in Wayne, and was interviewed by Bastante for the film said: “I love to come down here, have lunch and just wander around the property. I just like the solitude and the quiet natural beauty that’s here.”
There’s never a bad time to come visit Sunnybank, but just before dusk is when most come to see the sun set over Pompton Lake. Afterword when the sky bruises to dark and only a soft glow is seen over the hills past the lake, the park becomes special. “It’s really peaceful. It’s really beautiful,” said John Boenisch who drives over with his wife Lisa from Pompton Lakes just for the amazing sunsets.
Lisa Boenisch added: “Its secluded and quiet, and when I’m here, I feel like I’m far from civilization.”
Wayne has so much hidden beauty and Sunnybank is one of these special places that make living in this town so wonderful.