Weber Duck Inn: A Dining Destination from Wrentham’s Past
By Grace Allen
Newcomers to the area might be surprised to learn that Wrentham was once a fine dining destination for the rich and famous. In the 1920s, the town landed on the culinary map when a local man decided to open a restaurant featuring duck dinners.
Now long closed, the Weber Duck Inn, established in 1923, would have celebrated its 100th anniversary on April 19. Capitalizing on the then-new trend of duck meat on menus, the restaurant boldly advertised itself as fine dining, “hotel style.” And the crowds came.
In 1883, Jacob Weber (pronounced “Weeber”) started a duck farm in Wrentham after immigrating to the area from Europe. The enterprise grew until it became one of the largest White Pekin duck breeding farms in the United States, second only to Long Island farms, which by the turn of the century were capitalizing on the teeming market for young duckling in New York City restaurants.
Weber, an astute businessman himself, was soon supplying dressed ducks to Boston restaurants with the help of his four sons. The family then had the idea to start serving duck dinners to people traversing the soon-to-be-completed State Road (now Route 1A) between Boston and Providence. It was the early 1920s and Wrentham had a population of about 2,500 people, but Weber, it seemed, sensed the potential in a booming American restaurant industry.
The eatery would need a chef, so the Webers tapped the esteemed Leon Pini to take the helm of the restaurant. Pini, chef at the historic Hotel Woodcock on Washington Street in Boston, moved his family to Wrentham, committing to the endeavor and in fact suggesting a more high-end restaurant than perhaps the Webers originally planned for. Alongside a well-respected architect, Pini helped plan the elegant, Tudor-style building with its modern restaurant on State Road, all while designing the duck-focused menu he would serve its guests.
On April 19, 1923, the Weber Duck Inn (“We Raise the Ducks We Serve”) held its grand opening. State Road was not fully completed, so guests had to obtain a pass from the construction company to travel on the road to the restaurant, but that did not stop them from making the 90-minute trip from Boston. The restaurant’s debut was a smashing success, ushering in an era of well-heeled and famous guests traveling to Wrentham for dinner.
The Weber Duck Inn became a place to see and be seen. Among its guests were many of the silent film stars of the era such as Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Mary Pickford, and director Cecil B. DeMille. Debutante parties, society gatherings, and other privileged guests dined at the Inn. Harvard football post-game dinners were held there, with the team and its opponents traveling from Cambridge all the way to Wrentham for a meal.
By 1925, the Weber Duck Inn had grown to include more dining areas, a banquet room, and a dance floor.
While being entertained by an orchestra, guests dined on such fare as Duck Mirabelle or Duckling Supreme, with sides of Sweet Potatoes Palm Beach and Asparagus Tips Hollandaise. Meals cost $3-5 dollars, which was expensive for the time. Although Prohibition was in effect, it was rumored that the well-connected could get a drink at the Weber Duck Inn.
By all accounts, the Weber Duck Inn was a success and remained quite popular for at least a decade. Restaurants have always had a high failure rate, so to succeed as a destination eatery in tiny Wrentham for that long can be considered quite an achievement.
But by the mid-1930s, change was afoot. Chef Leon Pini had moved on and opened his own restaurant, the Lafayette House in Foxboro. The Depression left
its mark on businesses both big and small, and the Weber Duck Inn fell into decline. In 1942, the Inn was foreclosed upon and an era was over.
The building was used for various purposes for a while, including as an auction house, but it never regained its former glory. In 1958 the facility burned to the ground, and all that remains is a stone column, half-hidden by trees, marking the former driveway, across the street from the Serenity Hill Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.
For more information about the Weber Duck Inn and its history, read “Pondville: My Home and Neighborhood, My Personal Search for its History,” by Elizabeth Whitney. The book is available from the Norfolk Public Library.
Another source is a Norfolk Community Television presentation on the Weber Duck Inn, hosted by A. Ross Pini, Leon Pini’s grandson. The 2014 presentation is available on YouTube.