Margaret Woodbury Strong is remembered for a lot of things. Her collections of dolls, doll houses, and other playthings were so vast that after her death a Museum of Fascination was established in Rochester, NY to house them. Her philanthropy enabled St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport to purchase Atwater Kent’s former cottage as a rectory. But at Kennebunk Beach, where she had summered since toddlerhood, Margaret Woodbury Strong is remembered as The Bathtub Lady for an incident that took place during the last month she was ever there.
She was born in Rochester, NY, in 1897 to John Charles Woodbury and Alice Motley. The Woodbury family’s considerable wealth was augmented by their early investment in the fledgling Eastman Kodak Company. They bought the modest William Snow cottage at Kennebunk Beach in 1899. Two years later they purchased the Charles S. Davis cottage next door to accommodate guests.
Margaret learned to play golf even before she could toddle up the hill to the Webhannet Club. She also became an accomplished archer, bowler, bridge player, gardener and competitive flower arranger but shopping was by far, always her favorite pastime.
Margaret Woodbury married Homer Strong, her 45-year-old Rochester neighbor when she was 23. The wedding was celebrated at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church on Sept. 9, 1920. The couple had one daughter, Barbara, who lived a short and troubled life. Margaret’s parents both passed away in the 1930s. After the death of her domineering mother Alice in 1933 an employee of Margaret’s remembers her saying “Now I will never again in my life have to do anything I don’t want to do.”
On July 30, 1968, her neighbors and in fact everyone headed to Kennebunk Beach that day were shocked to see forty-six claw-foot bathtubs lined up head to tail all along one side of Mrs. Strong’s expansive front lawn.
Editor Sandy Brook wrote in the York County Coast Star that Mrs. Strong had purchased the old tubs from the liquidated Old Fort Inn the previous year, but Mrs. Strong was quick to correct him saying the tubs came from the liquidation auction at the Atlantis Hotel which had just occurred the previous month. She said she had bought them as flower planters. Mrs. Alexander Burr of Burr’s Greenhouse confirmed that a woman had come in and ordered enough plants to fill 46 bathtubs. “I gulped,” she said. “She bought 119 boxes – cleaned us out!”
The first night the tubs were out, teenagers upended 10 of them. Margaret called upon Chief Frank Stevens to catch the perpetrators and to post a policeman on her lawn. He refused, believing that her unusual lawn ornaments had incited the acts of vandalism. The next night someone left a toilet with a flower planted in it right in the middle of Margaret’s lawn.
She was baffled by the negative reaction elicited by her tubs. Perhaps if they were artistically painted her neighbors would come to appreciate their beauty. She asked Goose Rocks Beach art instructor, Eliot O’Hara to bring his class over to do the job. He declined. Some of the tubs were finally painted by would-be artists -mostly her young employees- but the neighbors were not appeased.
On September 11th, an announcement appeared in the Star that Mrs. Strong was putting the tubs away in cold storage for the winter. Did she plan to put them out again for the summer of 1969? “Tune in next spring,” wrote the Editor.
Margaret Woodbury Strong died in her sleep on July 17, 1969, at her winter home in New York. She reportedly left her 14 Kennebunk Beach cottages to her most loyal employees. Her personal attorney Donald R. Harter inherited the “Bathtub Cottage,” which had quadrupled in size since her parents purchased it in 1899.