The Big Duck
1012 Flanders Road
Flanders, New York 11901
Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-5:00pm
Fee: Free donations accepted
The History of the Big Duck
IN 1931, Riverhead duck farmer, Martin Maurer and his wife, Jeule, decided to construct a giant duck-shaped poultry shop. They hoped to sell the Pekin ducks they raised to passing motorists, who would surely be drawn to the striking form of the ‘big duck’ along Riverhead’s West Main Street. The Maurers envisioned this plan while vacationing in California where they are known to have visited a roadside coffee shop shaped like a giant coffee pot.
Seeking local assistance, the Maurers hired carpenter George Reeve and two eccentric stage show set designers, brothers William and Samuel Collins. A live duck tied with a string to their porch served as a model for the Collins’ design. Reeve studied the carcass of a cooked chicken in order to create a sturdy, bird-accurate, frame work for the building. Construction of The Big Duck had begun.
After The Big Duck’s wooden frame had been pieced together, wire mesh was attached. Cement was applied to the wire mesh with the assistance of Smith and Yeager Builders. The Big Duck was painted a lovely bright white, save the beak, of course, which was given its street-line orange color. The finishing touch was the placement of two Model-T taillights in The Big Duck’s head for eyes that would glow red at night. The Big Duck in its entirety measures 30 feet from beak to peaky tail, 15 feet from folded wing to folded wing and 20 feet from its base to the top of its head. As duck farms in the 1930’s were commonly known as duck ranches, Martin Maurer had his giant duck shop and business trademarked as The Big Duck Ranch.
The Big Duck roosted at The Big Duck Ranch on West Main Street till 1936. The Maurers’ had sold quite a few ducks from their unique shop and decided to relocate, Big Duck and all, to Route 24 in Flanders. The Flanders community welcomed The Big Duck with open arms and have cherished it since.
The Big Duck’s popularity grew and continues to grow steadily. When the land where The Big Duck rested was slated for development in 1987, Big Duck fans from all over joined Suffolk County in an effort to preserve The Big Duck. The Big Duck’s then current owners, Kia and Pouran Eshghi, generously donated The Big Duck to Suffolk County in December of 1987. The Big Duck was relocated to a nearby County Park. In 2007, since the former site had not been developed after all, the Big Duck was returned to the heart of Flanders.
The Big Duck is open to the public as a gift shop and museum. Visitors can browse historic photographs, antique postcards and published articles as well as photos of roadside architecture on display. Unusual duck merchandise or ‘duck-a-billia’ as well as other Long Island gifts and handcrafted items are available for sale.
World Famous Duck Architecture
While The Big Duck is a well-known Long Island landmark, it has also lent its name to a specific style of roadside architecture. The architectural term, “duck” was coined by architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in 1968. Duck buildings are highly sculptural forms which represent products or services available within as opposed to the more common ‘decorated sheds’ which are plain buildings whose functions are revealed by added signage.
Within Suffolk County’s Big Duck as with other architectural ducks, the building itself is the signage, a colossal, three dimensional, representational advertisement. Designed to mesmerize passing motorists and entice them ultimately to a purchase, ducks are fantastical while retaining their purely practical intentions. The Big Duck has become the most famous example of roadside architecture.
Another well-known architect named James Wines has proposed the Duck Design Theory, D.D.T., part of which states: ‘Form follows fantasy not function for architecture that cannot offer fantasy fails man’s need to dream.’
Long Island Duck Farms
How did the Pekin duck get to Long Island? According to legend, in 1870, a Long Island sailor traveled to China and returned with nine of the snowy-white, orange-beaked Pekin ducks. These ducks thrived on Long Island’s splendid waterways when shelter was provided them for the cold winters.
As Pekin duck meat was especially succulent, it marketing potential soon became evident to potential soon became evident to Long Islanders. Duck farms, sometimes known as duck ranches, sprang up all over Suffolk County, producing 60% of the nation’s ducks by 1969. Today that figure has dropped to below 15% due to escalating land values, increased production costs and environmental concerns.
Long Island duckling can still be found as a menu offering at the finest restaurants around the world.
The Big Duck Museum Store features many duck-inspired souvenirs. Find Big Duck t-shirts, caps, magnets, key chains, mugs, note cards, holiday ornaments and children’s items as well as other Duck-a-bilia. Also find many local products: Books on local history, Long Island seaside photography and artwork, hand-crafted items. calendars, post cards and much more.
From Western Long Island:
From the LIE, exit 71 take Route 24 south through the Riverhead traffic circle. Cross Route 105 and continue 1 mile on Route 24 to The Big Duck on the left, right after Huntington Lane.
From the Sunrise Highway, take exit 64N (Riverhead), make a right onto Pleasure Drive, Flanders. At a right onto Pleasure Drive, Flanders. At the end, make a left onto Route 24. The Big Duck is on the right, after the access road to the Flanders Men’s Club.
From Eastern Long Island:
From the Sunrise Highway, take exit 65N, Riverhead and travel 5 miles on Route 24 to The Big Duck on the right after the access to the Flanders men’s Club.
Disclaimer: This information was taken directly from the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation Division of Historic Services pamphlet. The Big Duck is very unusual to visit and has bathroom facilities.