Written by Mr. Albert Ross Pini Jr., Mr. Leon Pini's grandson.
On April 19th, 1923, one hundred years ago today, the town of Wrentham was host to the gala and long awaited formal opening of the new Weber Duck Inn situated on the Weber bothers
farm on the new State Road. The invitations read: "Before any announcement is made to the general public, the management is extending to a selected group the privilege of making reservations to dine, dance and make merry in celebration of this gala event."
The Boston Post and other newspapers in Boston heralded the opening in the following morning's editions as a major success and predictions were for the Inn to have a long and glorious future. Wrentham certainly received its place on the map that April, one hundred years ago, for over the next decade or so hundreds of thousands of patrons passed under the entrance canopy which sported the Weber Duck emblem.
1922 - 1933
The prosperity of the second decade of the twentieth century was not confined to Wall Street and those associated with the burgeoning automobile and housing industry, but was also enjoyed by local entrepreneurs that possessed vision and foresight. One such man was David Weber of Wrentham, Massachusetts. Wrentham was a town of 2,500 people situated just between Boston and Providence.
David Weber had expanded his fifty acre Orchard Duck Farm, as it had been known, into the largest duck breeding farm in New England. His farm became known as the Weber Duck Farm and consisted of two hundred rolling acres with natural ponds for 100,000 ducks raised annually to drink from. David Weber prided himself as did his brother John, on raising one of the finest strains of White Peking duck that had ever been developed in America, a strain that was fifty years in development. It was a major enterprise that David Weber and his brother John controlled in this small, quiet town of Wrentham in those years just prior to 1922. Shortly after purchasing his brother's interests, David conceived the idea of serving duck dinners to the public amid the beautiful settings of the farm. The great popularity of roast duck dinners enjoyed at the finest hotels and country clubs was the inspiring element that suggested the 1922 construction of the Weber Duck Inn on the farm property.
During one of David Weber's visits to his Boston purveyor, Thorndike and Gerrish Co., he was introduced to Mr. Leon Pini. Mr. Pini was the renown chef of the famous and celebrated Woodcock Cafe of Boston which, prior to the Eighteenth Amendment, was the leading rendez-vous to all those who appreciated a fine cabaret and excellent cuisine. It was famous for more than two decades in Boston. After a meeting at the Hotel Brunswick in the back bay and several meetings at the proposed sight of the Inn at Wrentham, the two men finalized their plans for a large roadhouse unlike anything before conceived this far from Boston. At this time Wrentham was approximately 1½ hours by automobile from Boston prior to the opening of the new state road (today's Route 1A) in 1923. A Boston architectural firm was retained and commissioned to design a reproduction of an english manor house employing much of the tudor styling that had again become so popular at the end of the First World War. The building was thoughtfully planned for architectural beauty and designed to blend with the natural environment of the lovely oaks and maples of the southwestern corner of the farm. Leon Pini agreed to supervise construction of the new inn and manage the business employing the skills that this well known hotel man possessed. Mr. Weber had an english colonial style home built opposite his large home on the state road for Mr. Pini's use. This home was reputed to be the first in Wrentham with two full bathrooms.
Construction of the Inn began in the spring of 1922 and was completed later that year. The modern Mc Donald designed kitchen contained a huge walk-in refrigeration room especially designed by Frigidaire which kept all food at 38 degrees. Great electric ranges with electric baking ovens were constructed to roast 40 ducks at one time. Electric dishwashers, warmers, dryers, refrigeration and ventilation were all found in the Weber Duck Inn kitchen. The early months of 1923 were spent fitting the new Inn out for its imminent opening in the spring. A circular approachway was laid and a field stone fountain was constructed between the two entrance gates.
A reporter from the Boston Post commented in an early April edition "The Weber Duck Inn is 150 feet from the new state highway amid a natural setting graced by rocks and shrubbery. A curving driveway leads to this most attractive roadhouse". At the same time that the Inn was under construction the new state road US 1 which ran directly in front of the Inn was in its' final stages. The new road would make the trip from Boston far less arduous.
Leon Pini opened the Weber Duck Inn amid much fanfare and celebration on Thursday evening, April 19, 1923, with a formal dinner served in the main dining room at 6:30 PM. The opening menu contained crabmeat cocktail with Woodcock Relish, strained duckling gumbo, Roast Weber Duckling with sweet potatoes Oregon and spiced pears, hearts of lettuce, sultana roll for dessert, Pini Cheese, toasted crackers, and coffee Diable. Leon Pini's brother Selo Pini, a chef of great renown in the hotel industry brought his expertise to the Inn as its first executive chef. Mr. Pini had distinguished himself in his trade in Boston and became famous for several of his innovations that live on today in the industry.
The opening was a huge success and the Boston Post, amid its' accolades, described the decor as follows: "The field stone fireplace in the large and spacious lounge has a distinctive english influence and gives the room an air of comfort and companionship. The luxurious fittings are old-english throughout. A fine english refectory table probably unequalled in this country and imported rugs complete the furnishings." Restaurant critics raved of the sumptuous food, luxurious fittings, and unequalled service. The Weber Duck Inn became an immediate success and its' originators David Weber and Leon Pini had reason to be optimistic concerning the Inn's future that night in 1923.
For the next several years the Inn traditionally opened its' season in April and closed in late November. The practice of season openings and closings are all but unheard of today but, prior to the Second World War, many roads in New England were treacherous during the winter months and many automobiles were not registered between January 1st and April 1st. During the winter months the Inn was closed as was much of the farm and manager Pini travelled to the Hollywood Beach Hotel, one of Florida's first major resort hotels, to manage the hotel for the winter season. The decade of the 1920's saw unprecedented success for the Weber Duck Inn and farm. Its managers Leon Pini of the Inn and George Hadley of the farm were able to report tremendous earnings to David Weber and the Weber family at each annual meeting. Inn grew in size and stature as did the farm. In 1925 Leon Pini reported in the Hotel and Travelers News, "those attending the 1925 opening of the Weber Duck Inn on April 7th will be pleased to note the addition of a new banquet room, increased dining area in the English Room and a new dance floor." The latter improvement received much attention as the Inn featured The Weber Duck Inn Orchestra led by Frank Mc Grath who had formerly been associated with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in New York at the Hotel Roosevelt. The Weber Duck Inn provided the perfect atmosphere, cuisine and service for all types of affairs from society gatherings such as weddings and debutant parties to events such as post Harvard - Yale football game gatherings. Also there were famous bridge luncheons that Mr. Pini personally supervised on the front lawn of the Inn. The Inn was not for everyone, however. The basic duck dinner at the Inn was three dollars. This was very expensive considering the standard of living in the country at the time with the average person earning $20.00 per week in 1926! High price nevertheless, the Inn was always filled to capacity. Nightly, the parking lot attendant was able to take the wheel of various luxury makes of the day. Peerless', Pierce-Arrows, LaSalles, and Packards graced the spacious parking lot. A special dining room was provided for the chauffers of the Inn's patrons, an idea that Leon Pini would latter bring to his own Lafayette House in 1935. Patrons arriving by train were at times chauffeured from the station on Depot Street to the Inn in Mr. Pini's own 1927 Cadillac V-12 Touring Sedan. As Leon Pini had stated in April of 1923 at the opening, "the best makes itself known". The best certainly had made itself known in Wrentham at the Weber Duck Inn.
At the height of the Inn's business the establishment served 25,000 roast ducks to 75,000 patrons every season. The Inn's slogan "We Raise The Ducks We Serve" became widely known. Patrons also consumed 200 pounds of Pini Cheese per day. "Dressed Ducks At Retail" read the sign at the popular Weber Duck Inn retail store located just to the left of George Hadley's residence (later to become the Stanley Weber home).
Manager Leon Pini with the assistance of the well known publisher of the Hotel and Traveler's News, Harold R. Dolby, employed the latest techniques in advertising. The Weber Duck Inn and its' manager were never far from the pages of the Boston and local newspapers as well as the trade papers. In 1924 Leon Pini announced the errection of the first electric sign of its type to advertise the Weber Duck Inn. The sign was placed high atop the celebrated Hotel Turraine at Boston's "windy corner" as it was referred to, the corners of Tremont and Boyleston Streets overlooking the Boston Common. The famous Weber Duck Inn sign was a popular attraction for many years. In 1927, a Boston Herald piece on Leon Pini's "well deserved vacation from the busy Inn" read as follows: "Evidently some of the ducklings from the Inn are also taking an outing during Mr. Pini's absence, as we understand that they are giving a demonstration of the latest slang in 'duck language' at Loew's State Theatre, Boston where they are spending a short time and causing considerable attention". Leon Pini made certain that the legacy of the Inn and its' cuisine were well publicized.
A local example of such publicity came in 1930 when Scotty Holmes and Leon Pini published a song entitled "The Ducks Are On Parade". Wrentham Music Publishers, Inc. was set up for this purpose and the song was copyrighted. "Duck Bones" candies were also marketed by the Inn and were available for one dollar per pound box. "Pini Cheese" and "Pini Savoring" were also available at the Inn.
At the spring meeting of 1933, almost ten years to the date of the opening of the Inn, Leon Pini and George Hadley were relieved of their duties as managers by vote of the Weber family in favor of family management. The founder, David Weber, was in failing health and had become quite deaf and it is believed that he did not have much input into the voting. One son, Stanley Weber, was not in favor of this move due to the successes of the past ten years. It is believed that Stanley Weber was a believer in the old adage "leave well enough alone". Stanley's vote aside, the Weber Duck Inn and Farm opened in 1933 under family management. Another son, Henry Weber, headed the Inn while Stanley Weber's charge was that of the farm. Leon Pini was named manager of the Hotel Biltmore in Providence, Rhode Island, immediately following his release from the Inn and in June of 1935 opened his own establishment, the Lafayette House in Foxborough. Leon Pini succumbed in 1965 after an extraordinary career in the hotel industry that spanned six decades. George Hadley moved to Marston's Mills, Cape Cod and opened his own very successful duck farm.
1934 - 1942
For the Weber enterprise the period 1934 through 1942 was marked by one financial setback after another. Management problems caused the Inn to loose much of the reputation and success that had been built during the first ten years. Competition from the Long Island duck farms and the Weber's inability to deal effectively with this and other problems caused further decline at the Inn and farm. In 1942 the National Bank of Wrentham initiated foreclosure proceedings against the Weber enterprise. It was said that at the foreclosure Mr. Mc Dougal, President of the Wrentham bank, purchased the rights for the bank to the Weber name from Henry for $50 !
The Weber Duck Inn story effectively ended that day in 1942 at the foreclosure. The years 1934 through 1942 illustrated how quickly a tremendous name and reputation can slip from the public's mind.
1943 - 1958
The years 1943 through 1950 witnessed the death of founder David Weber and the slow decline of the farm property and the empty Inn. Passersby were heard to comment that the Inn resembled an old lonely ocean liner moored at a deserted pier. This description was most accurate as the Inn was never to return to those bustling days of Harvard football parties and bridge luncheons. One could almost recognize the ghosts passing through the deserted gates in their chauffeured automobiles.
In January of 1949, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Sanzi of Walpole, owner's of Walpole's Rainbow Gardens, purchased the Inn at auction with the intention of eventually restoring the Inn to its' former glory. The Inn however, never was to return and for the next several years it was operated as an auction gallery.
On the night of September 28, 1958, a very stormy evening, the weekly auction came to a close. The doors were locked and the occupant of the caretaker's apartment, Joseph Mendes, retired to his quarters. At approximately 3:00 AM a downdraft in the chimney forced an ember from the fireplace on to the oak floor of the large main lounge and fire soon raged. Firemen from Wrentham and Walpole responded to the scene quickly but water pressure in the firehoses mysteriously sagged and the firefighters were unable to save the Inn. The Weber Duck Inn took its' place in our local history forever that Sunday morning thirty-five short years after its' gala opening.
One hundred years have passed since the formal opening of the Weber Duck Inn and sixty-four have passed since the raging fire that relegated the Inn to ruins. Mr. David Weber's home is now the Serenity Hill Nursing Home but was extensively renovated after a serious fire in 1961. The former residence of Inn manager Leon Pini is still a private home and has had several occupants since the foreclosure in 1942. The other two Weber residences, Stanley's to the far fight of the former Pini home and J. Wallace Weber's home directly across from the entrance to the Inn also remain as private residences.
As to the men that built and managed the Inn and Farm, founder David Weber died after a long illness in 1950 as did his wife Emma in 1971. Henry Weber passed away in 1977 and J. Wallace, son of David's brother John, died in 1970. Stanley Weber lived in Walpole having sold his family home in 1978. As stated infra, Leon Pini founded the Lafayette House and died at age 75 in 1965 after a long career in the business. Selo Pini, the Inn's celebrated master Chef died in 1983 at the age after 55 years in the industry. Mr. George Hadley retired to the cape after having been successful in his own duck business.
The Weber Duck Inn, Weber Duck Farm and the men that built and managed both enterprises have now been committed to our memory and will remain a part of Wrentham's history forever.
Digitized in 2023 by Grey Almeida, Wrentham 350 Anniversary Committee Member.