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Oct 15, 2014 10:00 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

After Years Of Planning, Duck Farm Exhibit Will Be Unveiled Saturday In Flanders

Oct 15, 2014 10:24 AM

Lisa Dabrowski always wished that, one day, she would own and operate her own duck farm.She grew up observing her grandfather, John “Joe” Jackowski, tend to his flock on his farm in Calverton. Her mother, Mary Dabrowski, grew up helping Ms. Dabrowski’s grandmother Mary Jackowski on the family farm. And, prior to that, Ms. Dabrowski’s grandmother helped her great-grandmother Magdelena Zylniewicz pluck the ducks and prepare the birds for market.

“I always wanted my own farm,” said Ms. Dabrowski, who now lives in Cutchogue, in a recent interview. “It’s in my blood.”

But it was not meant to be. Sadly, like most duck farm owners across Long Island, Mr. Jackowski could no longer keep up with the updated restrictions being set by the State Department of Environmental Conservation. He eventually sold his farm to the U.S. Navy, and it is now part of the Enterprise Park at Calverton. Mr. Jackowski went on to manage a duck processing facility in Riverhead for more than 20 years before retiring in the 1970s.

Since then, the number of duck farms on Long Island has dwindled from dozens to just two: the Chester Massey and Sons in Eastport, which will close at the end of this year, and the Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue.

So, when the opportunity came up to work with the Friends of the Big Duck to put together an exhibit and museum in Flanders dedicated to the history of duck farming on Long Island, Ms. Dabrowski knew it was the job for her.

She has spent the past five years gathering souvenirs and memorabilia from an industry that once dominated the shorelines of Long Island. At its peak in the 1960s, there were more than 90 duck farms operating across the island, with many lining the coastline along the South Fork.

Now, Ms. Dabrowski and the Friends of the Big Duck, along with Southampton Town Historian Zachary Studenroth, just about have all their ducks in a row for the grand opening of the Long Island Duck Farming Exhibit at the Big Duck Ranch in Flanders this weekend.

“I’m thrilled,” Mr. Studenroth said. “We’ve put so much effort into this project, I’m excited to see it through.”

The exhibit, which has been a work in progress since 2009, will be open to the public starting on Saturday, following a ribbon-cutting scheduled for 11 a.m.

“It’s nice to have a place dedicated to the history of duck farming because it was such a big industry,” Ms. Dabrowski, co-curator for the exhibit, said. “It’s a huge part of the island’s heritage, especially on the East End.”

Fran Cobb, president of the Friends of the Big Duck, said the exhibit will host various memorabilia of duck farming, including things collected from a handful of the nearly 100 farms that once operated here. It will also include mementos that focus on the history of the 20-foot-tall wooden duck, the Big Duck, that has been an icon for duck farming since its creation in the 1930s.

Over the years, Ms. Dabrowski and the Friends have been collecting items for the displays, which include everything from bumper stickers to rubber duckies to photos of women who entered an early 20th-century duck pageant.

The first thing guests will see when they enter the exhibit is a sign that dates back to the first days of the Big Duck. Inside the barn, guests will learn about the history of the Big Duck and the impact duck farming once had on Long Island, which will have only one farm remaining as of January.

The sign, which Mr. Studenroth said has been in storage for years, was donated to the exhibit. “It was a big surprise,” he said. “We haven’t been able to find a photo with the sign, so it must not have been up for very long.”

But before the sign was hung and the display case decorated, the barn needed major renovations. “They saved as much of the original as they could,” Ms. Cobb said, “but it needed a whole new foundation.”

The renovation cost more than $185,000, according to Mr. Studenroth and Ms. Cobb, who noted that the Friends of the Big Duck chipped in more than $15,000 to install the nearby public bathrooms. The Southampton Town Community Preservation Fund earmarked more than $200,000 for the restoration of the barn, which Mr. Studenroth estimated was built in the 1870s. The CPF deemed the Big Duck Ranch a historic property and, due to their proximity, two other buildings on the property were included as well, and that is why the barn’s renovation could be financed through the CPF, according to Mr. Studenroth.

Inside the 19th-century barn also will be displays detailing the history of the Big Duck, as well as information and videos about duck farming. When guests look out the windows, they will see photos of ducks across the field—much like what would have been viewed from the windows in the early 1900s, when the ranch itself was an operational duck farm.

Mr. Studenroth coordinated with Ms. Dabrowski and the Friends to rehabilitate the building and plan the displays.

The barn that sits farthest back on the land, known as the Brooder Barn, will host the museum with pieces of equipment used on the farms, including incubator trays, two incubators and a wheelbarrow once used to move barrels of feed.

Eventually, Ms. Cobb said, the group plans to bring a restored feeder train to the ranch that will sit between the two buildings. The train and track were once used to bring feed to ducks on a farm. Ms. Dabrowski said her father, Conrad Dabrowski, is overseeing the restoration of the train at the Long Island Rail Road Museum in Riverhead. She thinks it should be ready within the next year.

Saturday morning’s grand opening is the start of a busy weekend. The hamlet’s annual Autumn Antique Auto Show will be held on the ranch, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. The owners of antique cars and trucks can display their vehicles for $20, and spectator tickets run $5 each; children age 12 and younger get in for free. Children will also enjoy pumpkin decorating and can have their faces painted. All proceeds will benefit the Friends of the Big Duck and ongoing plans for the duck exhibit.

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You know, you can make replicas of old signs and of old, enlarged postcards and sell them. I'm a native LIer and stopped in at the Big Duck one day and the only thing I could find to buy was a soft (rather bland looking) Christmas ornament. I would have liked a nice drawing, watercolor, or enlarged replica antique post card of the Big Duck, or a replica sign from an old duck farm to take home with me.
By btdt (449), water mill on Oct 18, 14 9:15 PM
The renovation/rebuild of the barn on the site was very well done. Looks great.
By PQ1 (167), hampton bays on Oct 18, 14 11:48 PM