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Hamptons Life

Jan 28, 2019 12:58 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

At Home With Barbara Borsack

Barbara Borsack. JD ALLEN
Jan 28, 2019 1:10 PM

There is a corner of East Hampton Village that the locals call “down hook.” It’s where Accabonac and Pantigo roads meet, forming a trapezoidal-shaped fish hook in the fertile coastal plain adjacent to Hook Pond near where the original settlement of East Hampton formed in 1648.Flash forward two centuries: The corner is where James Madison Strong settled down, after fighting the rebels in Sherman’s March to the Sea during the Civil War. In 1865, Strong built a house and set up a compound—a homestead around the family business or farm—the common thing to do at that time.

He married Agatha Young, whose father owned a blacksmith shop across the street. Strong eventually took over that business, serving carriages on the only road going east.

One of Strong’s great-great-granddaughters still lives down hook: Barbara Borsack.

Now 66, Ms. Borsack grew up and spent her life in the shadow of that house on the corner. Today, the East Hampton Village Board member lives a few doors down on Accabonac Road.

On a recent frigid January day, Ms. Borsack said her life was shaped by her upbringing down hook, and she treasures the impact her family has had on the community—especially as her family compound is one of the last in the village.

“This has been my home forever,” Ms. Borsack said. “My family has always been here. We’ve never left. East Hampton was a great place to grow up.”

The land was originally owned by Stephen Hedges, who operated one of the largest and most productive farms on the South Fork. Land was acquired by the Strong family, and the compound grew.

When Strong died, his daughter, Mary Gould Strong, a schoolteacher, inherited the house on the corner. Ms. Borsack smiles wide when she recalls memories of raiding her great-aunt’s kitchen for sweets.

To the east on Pantigo Road, the teacher’s brother, John Young Strong, built a house for his family in 1896. The house must have felt the vibrations from the Long Island Rail Road, which began serving East Hampton and Montauk a year before—causing a commotion on the tracks just to the north.

Ms. Borsack grew up in the third house in the compound north of the corner house. The grayish blue Victorian with bay window, porch and turret was built for her great-grandfather, James Madison Strong, when he married in 1896. The Victorian still remains in the family, but is rented out to teachers at nearby schools.

By the early 1900s, the old blacksmith shop became Strong Brothers Garage. The business burned to the ground in a fire that killed about 20 horses.

On the other side of her parents’ house is where Ms. Borsack lives today. It has brown shingles and white shutters. An archway that covers the front steps is welcoming, but the walkway up to it has long since been abandoned and replaced with lawn. The house was built in 1925—five years after the Village of East Hampton incorporated and one year after the East Hampton Historical Society was formed—by her great-uncle William Strong.

In 1979, she and her husband, Ted Borsack, moved in. Their family name is on a placard next to the front door, but they use the side entrance from the large pebble drive that is shared by the neighboring homes in the compound.

“This is the third generation of the houses, and they are all still in the family,” Ms. Borsack said. “It’s unusual.”

As blustery January winds funneled through the railroad trestle, whisking down Accabonac Road, Ms. Borsack secured the door to the closed entryway. A fire roared in the gas fireplace in the living room.

She began tidying up around the house, rearranging the furniture to be more accommodating for company. A loveseat and ottoman are usually turned in front of the fireplace for the Borsacks to enjoy on frigid days like today.

Time is of the essence for Ms. Borsack, because she wears many hats in the community. A lover of the medical field, she has been an EMT for the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association for nearly 30 years. Ms. Borsack is also one of the founding members of the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation and serves as a Stony Brook Southampton Hospital board member.

For more than three decades, she has been a member of the East Hampton Historical Society. And in addition to her current role as a Village Board member, she has served on the Zoning Board of Appeals and as village deputy mayor for several terms since 2000.

“This is grassroots government here,” Ms. Borsack said. “This isn’t like someone making decisions in Washington. Decisions are made here and impact locals.”

But being a mother of four and grandmother to 10 are her favorite jobs. Three out of her seven grandchildren who are local are coming over for movie night. Much like her relationship with Aunt Goulie, Ms. Borsack said they enjoy baking sweets together.

“A grandparent’s house is where cousins come to become best friends,” Ms. Borsack read from a sign hanging on the wall. “Just like me, my children had a great relationship with their cousins because my siblings all lived here in East Hampton. Next door, my mother would hold Sunday lunch every week. So, all of the kids grew up as friends, and still are very good friends as adults.”

Upstairs, past the last of the original plaster walls that survived years of much-needed renovations, are four bedrooms, three of which are made up for her grandchildren. All small in size, one dons accents of red; another two twin beds decorated with stuffed animals and toys; and the third more mature with a paisley comforter and a view of historic Hook Windmill on North Main Street. It was built long before the house in 1806, and stopped operating in 1908.

Family is at the heart of everything in Ms. Borsack’s life.

Her daughter—Amanda Jones, a music teacher—and her sons—Tyler, an environmental analyst for East Hampton Town Planning Department, and Josh, who runs the family business, Strong Insurance Agency—all still live nearby.

Photos and memorabilia of her family through the ages decorate the walls of her home. An entire wall unit is devoted to recent graduation photos and family summer outings. However, china that was passed down to her was gifted to the historical society.

In a small frame is an original photo of her great-great-grandfather James Madison Strong dressed in his Union jacket years after the war.

Around the corner from the recently renovated kitchen and den on the main floor is a photo of his son—also James Madison Strong—dressed in a heavy wool coat and a necktie with a thick knot with a horseshoe pin. His short, parted hair is slick with pomade, and his neat handlebar mustache is turned up at the ends.

James Madison and John Young Strong—the Strong Brothers—both had an interest in political affairs in the village. James Madison Strong was a member of the Republican County Committee for more than 40 years. The two died three months apart in 1943.

Another notable find is a horseshoe nailed to a wooden board. It was recovered when the Buick dealership across the street, which is where Strong Brothers Garage stood, was demolished in the late 1990s. The metal is weathered and frail, but Ms. Borsack believes it brings her family luck.

“It is a totally different place here now, but change is inevitable,” she said. “When I grew up in the 1950s, it was a magical time in this country’s history. It was a time of optimism after the war. East Hampton was a wonderful place, but it is still a wonderful place. Progress is inevitable. But my goal has always been—especially in terms of being in village government—was always to control as much change as possible, and make it as palatable as possible. You want to hang on to the best of what we had and not destroy it. But not everything from the past is worth saving.”

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