Kohler Design Center back wall

Kohler Design Center at the American Club

Entrance to the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, Wisconsin

The Kohler Design Center is a remarkable showcase of design, offering innovative technology and a look back at history.

The remarkable history and highly-touted designs of The Kohler Company meet and come alive at the Kohler Design Center. Located along Upper Road at Highland Avenue between the Shops at Woodlake and The American Club in Kohler itself, the Kohler Design Center is “a three-level showcase of innovative product design and technology, creative achievement, and American history.” The building, located in a former recreation center for the residents of Kohler, opened as the design center in 1985 and draws over 150,000 consumers, builders, architects and designers each year, finding inspiration across its 36,000 square feet of displays.

It’s free to go in, and you can’t even buy anything! The Kohler Design Center is strictly a showcase and museum space. They won’t even take money for the coffee they offer. You can, however, meet with one of the Kohler designer on staff, or bring your own. They can connect you with plenty of dealers and distributors if you wish to purchase any of the Kohler products. Here’s how the Design Center is laid out:

Main Level: Product Pavilion and Water Deck

The main level offers the latest Kohler designs and products. You’ll find a sea of sink and faucet designswide variety of sinks and faucets, toilets, tubs and showers, power generators, and more, including tubs and showers just a few steps up from the main level, which also brings you to the mezzanine level. It’s a

Faucets at the Kohler Design Center

The showcased products are for display purposes only, but that doesn’t mean a few of them aren’t operational. Some of the sinks are hooked up; none of the toilets are.

Mezzanine Level: the Designer Room Gallery

The upper/mezzanine level offers 20+ model kitchens and bathrooms incorporating these products, immersing you in interior design ideas from ultra-modern to classic and retro. Designers created themes with names. Bathroom galleries include Del Mar, A Daily Splash, Barococo Futurism, Minimal Modern, Urban Elegance, and Woodland Sanctuary. Kitchen themes include Crystal Clear, Zen Loft, Mediterino, A Cook’s Garden, and more.

Tub and toilet in a model bathroom at the Kohler Design Center

Tub and toilet (yes, the square one) in a model bathroom at the Kohler Design Center.

Farm door and shower in one of the model bathrooms at the Kohler Design Center.

Farm door style and multiple fixtures in this model bathroom at the Kohler Design Center.

Lower Level: Museum and Art/Industry Gallery

The lower level is a fascinating museum, showcasing the colorful history of the Kohler family, the Kohler Company, and the town itself – one of the first planned communities in the United States. Exhibits are arranged in a timeline progress so you can follow the gradual evolution of Kohler products through the years. Everything from early machinery and power generation products to faucet and bathroom fixture designs can be viewed, as well as exhibits showcasing art and the championship golf courses flanking the area, Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. Of particular note are the scores of early advertisements used for Kohler products, which reflect consumers’ changing tastes throughout the years. The Arts & Industry Gallery is an ever-growing collection from Kohler’s own Arts/Industry program, which collaborates with artists from around the world. It was originally developed in 1974 by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan just down the road. It continues as an ongoing artist-in-residence program, which helps the company stay creative and gives it access to tools and materials to keep its design minds at the cutting edge of new ideas.

Colorful mid-century sinks on the museum level at the Kohler Design Center

Kohler pioneered plumbing fixtures in a variety of colors, with early examples in the museum on the lower level.

Faucet ad in the men's bathroom at the Kohler Design Center

Even the bathrooms have cool designs and features, including this Kohler ad on your way into the men’s restroom. I’d have checked out the women’s restroom design, but apparently that would be “frowned upon.”

You can also see how it’s all made, right there in Kohler, by taking an “Industry in Action” Walking Tour. You’ll learn about and see the cast-iron tubs, kitchen sinks, faucets, and other Kohler products as they are created. Tours are offered Monday through Friday; there’s one a day, leaving from the Kohler Design Center at 8:30am. Tours are led by Kohler retireees, so they know their stuff! Tours require you to be at least 14 years of age, wear closed-toed shoes, and agree not to take photos (photos are welcomed and encouraged within the Design Center.) Reservations for Industry in Action Walking Tour are required, and you can reserve your spot at (920) 457-3699.

Kohler Design Center Hours:

Monday – Friday 8am – 5pm
Saturday – Sunday 10am – 4pm

You can reach the Kohler Design Center via County Y/Highland Avenue from Highway 23, just west of I-43. Highways 28 and 32 also offer close proximity from the south and west. Highways 42 and 57 also come within a few miles of Kohler.

Kohler Design Center Address:

101 Upper Road (at Highland)
Kohler, WI 53044
(920) 457-3699

Wall of toilets at the Kohler Design Center.

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Entrance to Norskedalen off County PI in La Crosse County

Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center

Norskedalen means “Norwegian Valley,” and it serves as a nature and heritage center dedicated to preserving, interpreting and sharing the area’s natural environment and cultural heritage. Opened in 1977, Norsedalen features a secluded blend of hills and valleys traversed by trails, historic structures, and artifacts from all over the area. The focus is on Coon Valley in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area and Norwegian settlers who came to La Crosse and Vernon Counties.

Norksedalen Thrune Visitor Center mural

Norwegians loved their home country, but many considered opportunity in America irresistible. Wisconsin’s Driftless Area gave them a reminder of the beauty of home with better farmland and opportunity.

The Thrune Visitor Center is an excellent place to start. You’ll find several rooms which offer a look at how Norwegian settlers fared in Norway, made their way to America and Wisconsin, and adapted over time. One room traces the process of the early immigrants in a timeline fashion. It begins with displays of the actual trunks they packed their lives in for the ocean voyage, complete with labels and more. It then progresses to tools they brought for making clothing, tilling the land, and building their homes, and moves on to items they used around the house and in the community as they established themselves in Wisconsin. This immerses you in their experience.

Norskedalen Thrune Visitor Center Museum tools from early settlers

Norksedalen's Benrud Little White ChapelPlenty of historic buildings dot the grounds of Norskedalen. Numerous structures from the original Bekkum Homestead, including the main house, sit in close proximity along a creek. The Benrud Little White Chapel is a reconstructed church that originally stood in Sparta before being moved to Norskedalen in 2009. Today the chapel hosts weddings and other events and houses plenty of artifacts from its church days. Check out the still-playable organ that dates back to 1915!

Between its ability to grow in Wisconsin soil and fetch higher prices, tobacco farming became quite popular with early Norwegian settlers. Along the Ophus Trail, a good 1.1-mile walking path, you’ll find an original tobacco barn from the Coon Valley area.

Tobacco barn at Norskedalen

Early original tobacco barn at Norskedalen.

The Bekkum Homestead at Norskedalen.

Part of the Bekkum Homestead at Norskedalen.

Start of the Ophus Trail at NorksedalenYou can also get a little exercise traversing trails that run through the grounds. Some offer steep climbs up the high hills surrounding the valley. Others stay low and let you explore the vegetation, flowers, streams and ponds, and other features that make this place serene and beautiful.  Trail lengths range from just under a mile to over four miles.

The Paulsen Cabin (no relation to State Trunk Tour founder Eric Paulsen, as far as we know) on the Norskedalen grounds offers overnight accommodations. It’s a 130 year-old log cabin on the outside and a mix of history and today’s comforts on the inside. It sleeps six with an authentic log interior and loft; but it also features a full kitchen with modern amenities.

Norskedalen offers events throughout the year, including nature walks and family-friendly options. Midsummer Fest welcomes the warmth after Syttende Mai.  Ghoulees in the Coulees is popular during Halloween. You can take a Candlelight Snowshow Hike in winter. Other events immerse you in nature and history.  Get more events here.

Reaching Norskedalen means a beautiful drive through the Driftless Area. Norskedalen is located along County PI between Highway 162 and U.S. 14/61 just north of Coon Valley. County PI itself is a narrow, twisty road that features hairpin turns as it navigates Poplar Coulee, winds past farms, and hugs hillsides on its way to the grounds. This is very much a pay-close-attention stretch of road! But it is gorgeous and very much a hint of the beauty to come when you arrive.

County PI on the way to Norskedalen

County PI on the way to Norskedalen.

Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center Address:

N455 O Ophus Road
Coon Valley, WI 54623
(608) 452-3424

Log Cabin Heritage Park

Log Cabin Heritage Park

Log Cabin Heritage Park along Highway 131Gays Mills holds its heritage well with Log Cabin Heritage Park. While the town is also home to the Crawford County Fair, several charming and historic downtown buildings, and the state’s largest apple festival, the real history is in this park.

Log Cabin Heritage Park is basically an open-air architectural museum of log houses which was established to preserve the folk architecture of the Kickapoo Valley. Explore six log structures and other buildings along a spring fed creek and learn about building techniques and life in this area in the 19th century. The entire park is located on the site of a former sawmill.

Structures you can learn about include the Altenburg-Zweifel Corn Crib (unique in that it was a house built without nails), the Barker Log Cabin, the Matti Hen House, the McCann House, the Nederlo Granary, the Tucker-O’Brien Log Cabin, and the Wauzeka Ridge School House. Many were built around 1870-1880 and were shipped to the park when it was organized in 1996.

The park also offers two shelters, grills, restrooms, a volleyball court, horseshoe facilities, a swimming pool and a children’s playground.

You’ll find Log Cabin Heritage Park along Highway 131 in Gays Mills, next to the Crawford County Fairgrounds. Highway 171 intersects nearby. While in Gays Mills, you can also check out the Kickapoo River Museum and quite a few antique stores.

Log Cabin Heritage Park Address:

212 State Highway 131
Gays Mills, WI 54631
(608) 735-4341

Peshtigo Fire Museum

Peshtigo Fire Museum

On October 8, 1871, a massive firestorm broke out in the woods near Peshtigo. Dubbed the “Peshtigo Fire”, the inferno consumed about 1,875 square miles of land – 1.2 million acres – along a wide strip from north of Menomonee, Michigan through Peshtigo down towards Green Bay. It is still the largest loss of life due to fire in U.S. history; estimates range from 1,200 to 2,500 lives lost.

It’s sometimes called the “Forgotten Fire” since the Great Chicago Fire happened the very same day and grabbed more attention. Other fires broke out on that dry, hot, very windy day in the Door Peninsula and a few areas in Michigan, but the Peshtigo Fire was the largest in terms of area and deaths.

The Peshtigo Fire Museum opened in 1963 to showcase some of the few items that survived. One featured item in the museum’s collection is a Church tabernacle, saved by submerging in the Peshtigo River by a local priest. Other items include a small burned Bible and a melted glass dish discovered by a construction worker in 1995. You can read several letters written by survivors with accounts of the fire and cleanup, including one that describes the burial of up to one thousand people. Also included are several maps of Peshtigo, including before the fire and one showing the extent of the fire. Murals depict the area before, during, and after the fire. Other items that the museum features include a collection of antique items showing the history of the area since the fire.

The Peshtigo Fire Museum is open from May through October. You can call 715-582-3244 to arrange a visit during other times of the year. Admission to the Museum is free, but donations are gratefully accepted.

U.S. 41 runs on a bypass around Peshtigo; following either of the exits into town brings you to the original U.S. 41 through town. You’ll find the Peshtigo Fire Museum just off the main street, on Oconto Avenue. Signs will point you there, and the sculpture out front looking like flames (or french fries, depending on how hungry you are) indicates the Museum, located in a former church. The Peshtigo Fire Cemetery is right next door.

Photo above is © 2001 by Deana C. Hipke of peshtigofire.info. We’re looking for the photos we took!

400 Oconto Avenue
Peshtigo, WI 54157
(715) 582-3244

Aztalan State Park Mounds

Aztalan State Park & Museum

Aztalan State Park Sign“Aztalan” is the name for an original Native American settlement that thrived along the Crawfish River banks in Jefferson County from around 1000-1300 AD. Now a National Historic Landmark, Aztalan State Park sits just east of Lake Mills near I-94 between Highways 26 and 89 just south of County B, which was formerly Historic Highway 30.

The original settlement included ceremonial grounds, farmland, pyramidal mounds, even a stockade – portions of which have been reconstructed. Aztalan is an excellent showcase of Wisconsin’s rich history predating the European settlers. Archeologists have a field day unearthing remnants, which were discovered by European settlers in the 1830s.

The original village grounds today make up the park, which covers 172 acres along the river. The Crawfish River is terrific for fishing and canoeing; the grounds also feature prairie, oak woods, a picnic shelter, walking trails, and bathroom facilities.

Aztalan State Park Mounds

Plenty of mounds and re-creations of wood forts and more illustrate Aztalan’s history.

Aztalan markers and viewYou need a State Park admission sticker to use the park, which is open daily from 6am-11pm. One block north on County Q the Aztalan Museum traces the history of the village, its people, and eventual European settlement. The reconstructed historic Mamre Moravian Church sits on the museum grounds. It was a one-room log church constructed in 1861. The church has been moved twice and given a few alternations during its history, although no move was more than a few miles. It’s been sitting peacefully on its present site since 1996. The church, museum, and several outbuildings welcome explorers and visitors alike.

You’ll find Aztalan State Park along County Q just south of County B, which was once Historic Highway 30. Today, I-94 serves as the main Milwaukee-Madison route, though you can access the park between the Lake Mills/Highway 89 exit and the Johnson Creek/Highway 26 exit.

Aztalan Museum

Aztalan Museum

County Road Q
Jefferson, WI
(920) 648-8774

Kenosha Public Museum

kenosha-public-museum-outside01The Kenosha Public Museum is a natural sciences and fine and decorative arts museum with over 80,000 collections, including 1,200 works in fine arts. Exhibit programming includes mammoths, world cultures, Native Americans, zoology, geology, fossils, and fine and decorative arts.

Permanent exhibits include:

  • The Wisconsin Story, a multi-disciplinary adventure in ecosystem development, evolution of plants and animals, the lives of Native Americans, and even changes in climate as they’ve happened over southeastern Wisconsin over thousands of years. The Schaefer mammoth, actually excavated by the Museum documents the earliest interaction of mammoth and man east of the Mississippi River. The replica is set in a special floor display exactly as found on the Schaefer farm in Paris, Wisconsin, a township along U.S. 45 in Kenosha County. This site is one of the oldest sites of human habitation in all of the Americas. The Hebior mammoth was also excavated in Kenosha County; it’s the largest, most complete mammoth excavated in North America.
  • The Decorative and Fine Arts Gallery includes works by renowned artists like Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Salvador Dali as well as regional artists who have achieved significant recognition such as Lorado Taft, Ruth Miles, and William Bloom. The decorative arts are well represented with Chinese ivory carvings, an ancient Chinese bronze goddess, and Wisconsin salt glazed pottery. Works change frequently.

There are many other rotating and virtual exhibits; you could easily spend the majority of a day here!

The Kenosha Public Museum is located on the east end of downtown Kenosha in the city’s HarborPark District within blocks of Lake Michigan. Highways 32, 50, and 158 all bring you to downtown Kenosha, which is about seven miles east of I-41/94.

Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday Noon – 5pm

5500 First Avenue
Kenosha, WI
(262) 653-4140

Paul & Babe at the Vilas County Historical Society Museum

Vilas County Historical Society Museum


Billing itself as “The Northwoods the Way It Was,” the Vilas County Historical Society Museum on the south end of Sayner along Highway 155 chronicles the history of Vilas County and its communities. It’s pretty easy to find, with a large statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox out front.

The Vilas County Museum holds over 7,500 square feet of exhibits, displays, and artifacts. You’ll find a “Pioneer Room,” with antique housewares, stoves, clothes, and other sundry items that were part of early settlers’ days. There are also doll collections, native wildlife mounts, lures, boats, outboard motors, and Jim Froelich’s African Safari mounts.


Carl Eliason’s original snowmobile, which started it all.

Sayner is where the snowmobile was invented. Along with an impressive collection of the sleds you can check out the original machine built by Carl Eliason in 1924 that secured the first official patent for the snowmobile.

The Vilas County Museum is open seasonally, generally Memorial Day through the end of September. From late May to mid-June, the hours are 10am – 2pm, seven days a week. From mid-June 16 through the end of September, the hours are 10am-4pm – also seven days a week.

Admission to the museum is $3 for persons aged 10 and up. Kids 9 and under are free.

The Vilas County Historical Society Museum is right along Highway 155, about six miles north of Highway 70 in St. Germain. The Snowmobile Hall of Fame & Museum is in nearby St. Germain along 70 if you want to make it a “two-fer” day.

Vilas County Historical Society Museum Address:

2889 Highway 155
Sayner, WI 54560
(715) 542-3388

East Troy Electric Railroad

The East Troy Electric Railroad operates on the last 7.5 miles of original, operational interurban railroad track in Wisconsin. Many of the former tracks and now bike trail rights-of-way, or simply obliterated with time. Not East Troy RR: they provide rides, dinners, and more on the original interurban route between East Troy and Mukwonago – a route that used to go all the way into Milwaukee.

easttroy_rr01This historic train ran from 1907 until the 1940s. Abandoned for a few decades, the Wisconsin Electric Railway Historical Society started running weekend trolley rides on the tracks in the 1970s. By 1985, the East Troy Railroad Museum opened in the original Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transport Company and today they offer not only train rides but dinners, pizzas, special parties, and more along for the ride. The western end is the original East Troy power station, home to the Museum; the eastern end is the Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago.

From April through November, daily trains are run; they’re more frequent during June, July, and August for obvious reasons. Check their full schedule here.

Adults, aged 15-64: $12.50
Seniors (65+): $10.50
Children, aged 3-14: $8.00
Kids 2 and under are free

** Tickets are good all day for as many rides and cars as you want! **




2002 Church Street
East Troy, WI 53120
(262) 642-3263


Langlade County Historic Museum & Railroad Park

The Langlade County Historic Museum is housed in an original Carnegie Library, constructed with a grant from Andrew Carnegie in 1905. It served as the public library for Antigo until 1997 and now features historic items from around Langlade County.

The Deleglise Cabin on the grounds showcases the typical early structures of northern Wisconsin, many of which were built along early military trails. This cabin, originally built in 1878, housed the Deleglise family and later church services and a printing office for a local newspaper, the New County Republican. Inside the cabin you can check out original items such as a chest of drawers from the 1850s and an altar from the 1870s.

antigotrain_800Also on the ground is Railroad Park, with a restored Union Pacific 440 steam locomotive originally constructed in 1900. She worked through Kansas and Nebraska before being retired in 1955; the locomotive was on display in Lincoln, Nebraska and then at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin, before being moved here to Antigo in 2005. Some restorations to the train and a roof for it were completed in 2007.

You’ll find the Langlade County Historic Museum right along U.S. 45/Highways 47 and 52 (they’re all combined on this stretch) in Antigo, just south of the downtown crossroads. Highway 64 is just to the north.

Museum Hours:
Summer (May 1st – Sept 30th): Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm
Winter (Oct 1st – Apr 30th): Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 10am-4pm

404 Superior Street (U.S. 45/Hwy 47/Hwy 52)
Antigo, WI 54409
(715) 627-4464


Webster House Museum

In Elkhorn, Walworth’s County Seat, you’ll find the home of composer Joseph Philbrick Webster, who songs were popular through the Civil War and beyond. The well-maintained Greek Revival-style cottage was constructed in 1836 and was originally located in Elkhorn’s public square (today’s Courthouse Square) and served as the federal land grant office, which sold land to Walworth County pioneers before Wisconsin’s 1848 statehood. It was also used as a temporary courthouse before a “real” one was constructed.

The Websters moved in after the house was moved to its current location at Rockwell & Washington Streets, where they added a kitchen and bedrooms while also creating a music room.

Webster’s descendants sold the house to the county in 1955; it opened a museum the following year. On August 8, 1970, the Webster House Museum was named a Wisconsin State Landmark and the official marker went in.

A tour of the museum shows off plenty of period items, including the square rosewood piano on which the composer created and played old classics like “Lorena” and “Sweet By and By.”

The Webster House Museum is just south of Elkhorn’s downtown and the junctions of Highways 11 and 67; U.S. 12 and I-43 are also nearby.

Mid-May through mid-OctoberWednesday through Saturday, 1-5pm or by appointment

9 E. Rockwell Street
Elkhorn, WI 53121
(262) 723-4248