As I’m lost in stories about the lives of past collies and the breeders who developed the American collie, I’m constantly amazed by the surprising details I uncover. While reading about Charles & Lillian Wernsman, and their Arken collies, I discovered that they lived in a nearby town! I have driven through that town, right by their property, countless times, never knowing the history. Now I feel compelled to try and find their old property, and see what, if anything, remains of this great collie kennel!
The Arken lines began back in 1919 by Charles & Lillian Wernsman. They became involved in collies at a time when breeders were importing fewer British collies and were beginning to develope their own family lines of American collies. The Wernsmans bred 17 champions, and all of their collies were sable and white.
CH Halbury Jean of Arken became their first champion in 1926. Her daughter, CH Spirit of Arken was their first home bred champion. While 17 champions may seem like a low number, the Wernsmans never housed more than dozen collies at a time, preferring to keep their numbers low. Their collies were mainly linebred, and was from carefully planned breedings. They utilized Alstead Eden Emerald, CH Alstead Seedley Queen, Alstead Aviator and CH Alstead Adjutant in the creation of their line. They also incorporated the collies from other famous kennels of that time, such as Bellhaven, Sterling and Tokalon.
They were like most of us when they first began showing collies, making mistakes and learning about what to look for when choosing a collie. They entered their first collie, named Bit O’Heather of Arken, in the New Haven Connecticut Show of 1919. The collie judge at that show was none other than Albert Payton Terhune! (Terhune was the author of all the beloved stories about the Sunnybank collies) After competing at the show, and seeing the other collies, they soon realized their girl wasn’t show quality.
They began studying bloodlines and decided they really wanted a daughter out of CH Seedley Queen. Unfortunately, everyone was looking for her daughters, and they eventually decided on a granddaughter instead, and it became a defining moment in collie history. Her name was CH Halbury Jean of Arken. Purchased in 1925 when she was 9 months old, she became the foundation of the Arken family of collies.
CH Halbury Jean is considered to be one of the most influential collies of all time. She is described as “the mother of the American collie.” She was born on April 8, 1924, she was sired by Alstead Aviator and her Dam, Halbury Expression,was also from the Alstead line. She was bred by Halbury collies of CT. She produced 6 champions, which was a breed record at that time. Even by today’s standards that is something to be proud of as a bitch producing 5 champions earns the coveted title of ROM, register of merit. Her offspring became top winners and producers.
Jean was bred to Eden Emerald, a breeding which produced El Capitan of Arken. He was a beautiful dog, but was never shown due to an injury. But he still left his mark on the collie world by siring CH Troubadour of Arken, who became one of the top sires in America. Jean also produced a well known daughter, CH Nymph of Arken, who was the dam of 5 champions herself! Nymph was bred to El troubadour, which produced CH Future of Arken, who can be found in the pedigrees of most American collies today.
There some truly great collies who come along once in a generation, and Jean was one of them. Edwin Pickhardt, of Sterling collies, described CH Halbury Jean of Arken as “one of the greatest bitches of all time, exquisite in head, having marvelous refinement in skull, with great strength of fore face and excellence in balance.” It may have taken the Wernsmans a while to find her, but they immediately recognized her beauty and quality, and the rest, as they say, is history!