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New marker commemorates original home of Riverhead’s Big Duck

In 1931, Riverhead duck farmer Martin Maurer created something that would soon  become an iconic roadside attraction: He had a very large white duck built at the edge of a West Main Street farm from which he sold processed ducks and duck eggs.

Today, Mr. Maurer’s project remains one of Long Island’s most popular attractions and is well-known nationwide. The 89-year-old Big Duck, which now sits along Flanders Road in Flanders, has been featured in books about roadside attractions across the country and cited by architects, who refer to its design and construction when speaking about similar attractions.

On a cold Thursday afternoon, Riverhead town officials gathered with members of a group appropriately called Friends of the Big Duck to unveil a historic marker at its original location on one of Riverhead’s earliest duck farms.

“This was the original site, right here,” said Janice Young, treasurer of Friends of the Big Duck before the ceremony began. “This recognizes the history of duck farms in Riverhead. It began right here.”

The marker reads: “EARLY DUCK FARM. George Pugsley raised Pekin ducks here circa 1909-1920. Big Duck roadside stand built 1931 originally stood nearby.”

Official formally unveiled the new sign at a ceremony Thursday. (Credit: Steve Wick)

According to Friends of the Big Duck, Mr. Pugsley established an early duck farm at the West Main Street site. Soon, duck farms were established on ponds and creeks across Riverhead. By 1931, the farm was being managed by Mr. Maurer, who had the Big Duck built as a store to sell what he raised.

A yellow ribbon on the new marker was cut by town officials, who hailed the history of the duck farms as something Riverhead should always remember. In the industry’s heyday, they said, there were 100 duck farms in the town, selling millions of processed Pekin ducks around the world. Today, the term “Long Island Duck” harks back to those days.

“This was a very big and very important industry and we want to remember it,” Ms. Young said.