Today, we know the Smith House as a busy part of the KBIA campus where art, woodworking, drama classes and bi-weekly movie nights are held during summers. This building holds a lot of history within its walls, built over 100 years ago in the 1900s by Willie O. Littlefield as the Dipsy Baths, a full-service private bathhouse with 100 changing rooms and showers that ‘ran into the sea.’ Providing a place for summer residents and locals to change into their swimming apparel, the building also housed a small store, barber shop, and an upstairs pool room. The Dipsy Bathhouse was one of the only places to offer food in the Kennebunk Beach area, with a takeout window where beachgoers could order lunch or snacks – now used as the KBIA snack shack.
The Dipsy Bathhouse stayed a steady feature on Mother’s Beach for over 50 years, when in the 1960’s a developer from Massachusetts purchased the Dipsy Baths. KBIA at this time had just acquired Strong Cottage, and realizing the importance of this adjacent piece of real estate, Gordon Smith, a strong supporter and fixture at KBIA, wrangled a deal with the developer and KBIA became the new owners. Renovations commenced on the building immediately and it was ready for classes the following summer. Twenty years later in 1981, the Dipsy Baths were renamed the Smith House in salute to Gordon Smith’s efforts.
There have been many variations of the Dipsy Baths signs over the last century, with one pair of green and white signs on display inside the Strong Cottage office. In homage to our past, we have now placed the signs back onto the side of Smith House.
We hope you come by to say hello this summer season, and take a moment to soak in a little history.