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New history book explores duck farming on East End

In the 1940s, Riverhead Town was home to almost 100 duck farms. At the time, those who would be called “foodies” today scrambled to taste the rich delicacy of Long Island duck, according to Susan Van Scoy.

The proliferation of duck farms inspired the iconic Big Duck building in Flanders. It was built in 1931 by duck farmer Martin Maurer, who got the idea after seeing a café shaped like a coffee percolator, Ms. Van Scoy said. The Big Duck became a shop where ducks, poultry and duck eggs were sold.

Environmental regulation in the 1970s and 1980s shut down most East End duck farms, but that didn’t stop the Big Duck from becoming a local landmark — nor did it stop Ms. Van Scoy from researching the Big Duck during her doctoral work at Stony Brook University in 2017.

Six months into her research, she realized a book about the landmark structure had yet to be written, so she took on the project herself. Ms. Van Scoy’s book, “The Big Duck and Eastern Long Island’s Duck Farming Industry,” a compilation of her research, local anecdotes and historic photos, will be published March 25 by Arcadia Publishing as part of its “Images of America” series.

On Tuesday, April 2, the Flanders Village Historical Society and Friends of the Big Duck will host an author talk and book signing at 7:30 p.m. at the David W. Crohan Community Center in Flanders.

An associate professor of art history at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, Ms. Van Scoy was interested in exploring history, photography and site-specific art during her doctoral studies. Site-specific art, she said, is architecture designed with location in mind.

The book, which takes a historical look at the Big Duck and duck farming on the East End, includes photos from local business owners, the National Archives, the Suffolk County Division of Historic Services and the Brookhaven-based Post-Morrow Foundation.

Ms. Van Scoy said the book wouldn’t have been possible without help from Janice Artandi, who works at the Big Duck museum store and the Flanders Village Historical Society.

“She put me in touch with a lot of crucial sources for the book: previous owners of the Big Duck, old relatives of duck farmers that were out east,” she said.

The book, which Ms. Van Scoy said is long overdue, appeals to a wide audience. “It goes to foodies who love duck and want to know the history of it, there’s an environmental element to it, a landscape element, then architects, artists and builders,” she said. “It’s kind of something for everyone.”

Ms. Van Scoy said she will donate a portion of proceeds from sales of her book to Friends of the Big Duck and expects it to be available for purchase at the Big Duck museum store.

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Photo caption:

Author Susan Van Scoy holds a copy of her new book, ‘The Big Duck and Eastern Long Island’s Duck Farming Industry,’ in front of an exhibition of photographs from the book at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. (Samantha Miller photo)