The Lawrence County History and Preservation Society unveiled a second Legends & Lore marker in Lawrence on Saturday thanks to a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.
The newest Legends & Lore marker was dedicated at Veterans park in East Lawrence and commemorates a history of perseverance, briefly detailing the challenges two non-conforming sisters faced in North Alabama in the 1870s, according to LCHPS members.
Lawrence County Archivist Wendy Hazle, who also serves as LCHPS vice president, presented the history of the Borghini family, specifically the enthralling tale of Mary and Dora Borghini, at the dedication on Saturday.
“Mary and Dora, tough pistol-toting sisters born in the 1850s, sold homemade wine and worked to save their family farm,” the new Legends & Lore marker reads.
According to Hazle’s research, the two sisters were born to Salvatore Borghini, an Italian immigrant, and his wife Jane Stegall Borghini. The couple also had two sons, John and Salvatore Jr.
In 1849, Salvatore and Jane had already moved to Lawrence County, but their firstborn, John, had passed away. The same year, Salvatore Jr. was born.
As Italian Catholics, the Borghinis are “looked at with suspicion,” Hazle told those in attendance on Saturday. “Little by little, Salvatore earns his place in the community. He is a hard worker, he makes wine, and he has a large farm.”
Salvatore Sr. would accumulate around 400 acres in north-eastern Lawrence County, the family history reveals.
By 1859, the Borghini family has grown by two daughters after Dora is born. Sadly, in 1869, the family loses Salvatore Jr., who was arrested in connection to the murder of Bud Sapp—the man accused of assaulting Jane Borghini according to an arrest warrant from 1859.
After his arrest, Salvatore Jr. is set free amid a ‘jail break engineered by disguised men,” but he is sent back to Italy to avoid prosecution. No other information is available at the Lawrence County Archives concerning Salvatore Jr. following his escape, Hazle said.
When Salvatore Sr. dies in 1871, his mortgage is paid off, and the property and his business ventures in the wine industry are left to his 56-year-old wife and their teenage daughters.
“Against them is the fact that they are women,” Hazle said. “The people of the community expect them to act like helpless women, but if the Borghini women do that, they will lose everything their husband and father worked so hard to gain. If they don’t adopt the role that society demands of them, they will be ostracized even more by their neighbors.”
Instead of conforming to societal standards in Lawrence County at the time, Hazle said the three women do “the unthinkable” by trading in their skirts for trousers and their bonnets for guns.
“They ride horses astride, they plow fields, they ride the fences and make repairs, they work the cattle and the hogs, they harvest fruits and vegetables, and they make wine. Their neighbors are horrified,” Hazle said.
In 1894, Jane Borghini dies, leaving the two girls alone as neither of them ever married.
Hazle shares stories of the two sisters, accustomed to their lives in the East Lawrence area, roughing the terrain and carrying on their day-to-day business, slowly earning the respect of their neighbors and community.
Thanks to archival records, the notable story of the Borghini sisters lives on even after their deaths; Dora died in an explosion at Thrasher’s Mill on July 18, 1913—it is speculated that she may have taken a job at the saw and grist mill to help pay the $200 she is fined for attacking and beating a man who was seen trespassing and cutting fence on the Borghini property in 1912.
Mary died at the age of 57 on June 20, 1925, from gangrene after falling and cutting her leg. Neither of the sisters had ever married and had no children or grandchildren, no siblings, nieces or nephews to bequeath their family property.
“With (Mary’s) passing, so to passed the Borghini family in Lawrence County,” Hazle said. “Mary and Dora—and their mother—carved their own path, made their own rules, and kept the family farm intact for 76 years. Today, we honor and commemorate the Borghini women. Thank you for showing us all what strength, dignity and perseverance mean.”
The new Legends & Lore historic marker honoring the Borghini legacy is the second marker dedicated in Lawrence County.
LCHPS President Marvin Jackson said the first Legend & Lore project began in Lawrence County in 2019, when the Preservation Society applied for its first grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.
The county’s first distinctive red marker, the Legends & Lore marker funded and fashioned by the Pomeroy Foundation, was erected at Lander’s Mill on Alabama 101 in Hatton in November of 2020. The marker commemorates the Hatton community’s history during a time when the area was more infamously known as “Trickem.”
Jackson said the Preservation Society plans to continue the program through the Pomeroy Foundation by applying for grants for other Legends & Lore markers to be placed in other areas of Lawrence County. According to the program, only one application may be submitted per year.
“We are thankful to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation for their continued support in preserving our county’s legends and lore,” Jackson said. “Preserving all our legends is as important as saving our historical buildings. The Lawrence County History and Preservation Society continues those preservation efforts and hope to see additional historical stories unfold throughout the county as we continue the Legends & Lore program.”
The Pomeroy Foundation, established in 2006 in Syracuse, New York, has awarded more than 1,500 grants for roadside markers and plaques nationwide for several programs including the Legends & Lore program, according to the Foundation.
“At the Pomeroy Foundation, one of our main initiatives is to help people celebrate their community’s history,” Deryn Pomeroy, trustee with the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, said. “The markers we fund are well-researched, with sources reviewed by professional folklorists or historians, depending on the marker program. We strongly believe markers offer many benefits. They help educate the public, encourage pride of place, and promote historic and cultural tourism.”
“With this marker for the Borghini sisters, you share a unique aspect of your community’s heritage,” Pomeroy added. “We would also like to thank our state partner, Emily Blejwas with the Alabama Folklife Association, who helps to vet our Legends & Lore applications from Alabama, and all those involved with obtaining this Legends & Lore marker. It will stand as an enduring testament to your cultural heritage for generations to come.”