A historic marker now stands on the West Main Street site that is the original home of the Big Duck, an iconic roadside attraction that has been synonymous with the hamlet of Flanders for generations.
The 28-foot tall, wood-framed, concrete duck was built on the site in 1931 in an area of town once known as Upper Mills by duck farmer Martin Maurer, who used it to sell processed ducks and duck eggs. While Maurer “hatched” the idea for the Big Duck, local carpenter George Reeve, who lived right down the road, designed the plans for the building.
“Motorists passing through Riverhead now have something else quite distinctive to remember us bye it is the big duck on the Maurer ranch at Upper Mills, and naturally it is attracting much deserved attention,” the Riverhead News reported on June 26, 1931. “This true-to-life bird, sitting so comfortably beside the road, and at night showing its electrically lighted eyes…is the biggest duck ever ‘raised’ anywhere in the world.”
The Maurer ranch was originally owned by George Pugsley, who was one of Riverhead’s earliest duck farmers. He established the first duck farm on the Peconic River in 1892 at the mouth of Saw Mill Brook, which is on the eastern end of what is now known as Riverside Drive. Pugsley raised Pekin ducks on the West Main Street farm from 1909 to 1920.
It was one of a growing number of duck farms established along the Peconic River and its creeks and tributaries in Riverhead beginning in the late 19th Century. Duck farming became a major sector of the agricultural industry on Long Island, where 100 duck farms once flourished. The region became famous for the Pekin ducks grown here.
Today, Long Island’s last remaining duck farm is in the Town of Riverhead. Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue, has been owned and operated by the Corwin family since 1908.
Maurer moved the Big Duck to a new ranch he purchased on Flanders Road in early 1937.
The Riverhead News reported on March 12, 1937: “The Big Duck owned by Martin Maurer, which was a landmark on the main highway at Upper Mills, is now calmly roosting in Flanders.”
The Big Duck continued to operate as a poultry store into the early 1980s. In 1983, the farm was sold for the last time and the Big Duck was closed down in the fall of 1984. The property’s new owners, interested in developing the site with residences, agreed to donate the Big Duck to the county, which moved the Big Duck in January 1988 to a site further east on Flanders Road in Sears Bellows County Park. There, it was repaired, restored and painted.
But the Big Duck wasn’t permanently settled yet. The former Maurer ranch, where the Big Duck “calmly roosted” from 1937 to 1988, was acquired by the Town of Southampton in 2001 and the building was moved back to the site in 2007.
The beloved local icon has attracted national and international attention over the years and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the New York State Register and is a Southampton Town landmark.
The nonprofit Friends of the Big Duck spearheaded the project of placing a commemorative marker at the site of the Big Duck’s first home, with assistance from the Flanders Village Historical Society and the Town of Riverhead. Janice Jay Young, the group’s treasurer and a docent at the Big Duck, researched the history of the Pugsley Farm and early duck farming on the East End, and applied for a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which funded the historic marker.
Young, her husband Neil, who is the current president of Friends of the Big Duck, Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, town council members Jodi Giglio, Tim Hubbard, Catherine Kent and Frank Beyrodt, Riverhead Landmarks Preservation Commission chairman Richard Wines and descendants of Big Duck designer George Reeve, Judy Teuber and Ruth Pollack, commemorated the marker on Thursday afternoon. The snipped a yellow ribbon that had been tied around the marker.
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