New museum coming to The Big Duck

ipsky Construction carpenters William Kaspereit and John Kern began the restoration work on the Big Duck Ranch barn Tuesday morning. (Barbaraellen Koch photo)

ipsky Construction carpenters William Kaspereit and John Kern began the restoration work on the Big Duck Ranch barn Tuesday morning. (Barbaraellen Koch photo)

A new museum on the grounds of Flanders’ Big Duck is soon to take flight.

After years of preparation, construction work began this week at the historic tourist attraction’s property on a barn that will house a museum devoted to Long Island’s place in duck-rearing history. 

In addition to the photos and antiques that will fill the barn, volunteers with the Big Duck in Flanders -— the nonprofit group that oversees the property — say they’re on track to acquire a very rare donation that will fit the bill for the museum.

“We’re preserving an original duck farm train engine and feed cart,” Lisa Dabrowski, co-coordinator of the museum project, told the News-Review. “It really is quite a historic piece.”

The engine and cart — which are 24 feet long combined — were given to the Friends of the Big Duck by an anonymous donor from Suffolk County, Ms. Dabrowski said.

During the heyday of duck farming, small trains like the duck engine were used to carry feed along railroad tracks that connected various barns at a duck farm, she said.

Duck farming on the North Fork began in the 1880s, according to a Suffolk County report, and by the end of the 1930s, about six million ducks were being produced annually on Long Island farms. In the early 1950s, about 70 farms in Suffolk County were raising two-thirds of all the ducks eaten in the United States.

Duck farming peaked in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with 7.5 million ducks raised each year.

By the late 1970s, however, only 27 duck farms remained — most of them in Riverhead, Aquebogue and Jamesport — and production dipped to around 5 million Peking ducks per year, according to a previous News-Review article. Rising costs and increasing environmental regulation drove many duck farmers to relocate to the Midwest, according to the county report.

A select few duck farms remain on the East End, still producing more than a million ducks each year.

The Big Duck was built as a tourist attraction in the 1930s to honor that industry.

Now, years after ducks roamed Long Island farms so freely, the donated duck engine is badly in need of restoration. Similar engines are very hard to find these days, according to Ms. Dabrowski.

“It’s probably the last one we know of that’s around. It’s in pretty bad shape, but it’s going to look really nice when it’s all done,” she said. The engine will be on display at the Big Duck Ranch once its repairs are completed.

That process will begin this weekend, when the engine will be taken to the Railroad Museum of Long Island on Griffing Avenue.

Restoration work on the barn itself began Tuesday — a long time coming, said Friends of the Big Duck president Fran Cobb.

“We’ve been trying to coordinate this for five years now,” she said. “It’s great for the community. It’s great for the people of the Friends of the Big Duck.”

The museum will be open to the public during the day and will feature different artifacts related to duck farming in display cases for visitors to see, Ms. Cobb said. Audio and video of quacking ducks will give visitors “the real feel of what it’s like to be on a farm,” she said.

The nonprofit will use $10,000 collected from donors at fundraisers like last summer’s Rubber Duck Race to pay for the restorations.

Project manager Joseph Aiello said contractors will install a new foundation, roof and siding for the barn, though some existing features of the barn will be preserved.

“Since this is historic, we are going to reuse the barn doors and put it back to the way it was,” Mr. Aiello said. “Every little detail is important.”

The museum is expected to open by July, volunteers said.

psquire@timesreview.com