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

Milwaukee Art Museum from US Bank Tower, Milwaukee

Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) features over 35,000 works of art in its collection, making it one of the largest such museums in the country. Originally established in 1882, it moved into part of its current building in 1957 and expanded in 1975. By 2001, the museum opened its distinctive, world-renowned expansion designed by Santiago Calatrava – his first commissioned project in North America.

Milwaukee Art Museum front from walkway

Officially called the Quadracci Pavilion, the soaring, movable brise solelil “wings” span 217 feet when open. The wings are designed to fold down over the windows of the pavilion, shielding it from sunlight or inclement weather. This part of the museum has become iconic, serving as a symbol of the cit; many residents to refer to the building as “the Calatrava.” Another expansion in 2015 added 30,000 square feet to the facility.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:

The Milwaukee Art Museum was named “Sexiest Building in the World” by Virtual Tourist in 2010. It’s a popular filming locale for commercials from Porsche to Victoria’s Secret; it also made a cameo in the opening of the movie Bridesmaids.

The MAM’s 35,000 works of art are housed on four floors, ranging from 15th century antiques to present-day works. Included are paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, decorative arts, photographs, and folk and self-taught art. Furthermore, their collection of American decorative arts, German Expressionism, folk and Haitian art, and American art after 1960 rank among the nation’s highest.

Along with these works of art in their permanent collection, the Milwaukee Art Museum features top-ranked national exhibits, lectures, presentations, and events under the Wings. Also, the Kohl’s Art Generation Open Studio inside the Museum lets everyone from kids to grown-ups generate art of their own on weekends and the first Thursday of each month.

Georgia O’Keeffe is a Wisconsin native, born in Sun Prairie; consequently, the Milwaukee Art Museum features one of her largest collections. Another Wisconsin native, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, also has a number of works featured. Other especially relevant artists include Gustave Caillebotte, Nardo di Cione, Francisco de Zurbarán, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Winslow Homer, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Mark Rothko, Robert Gober, and Andy Warhol.

While exploring the museum be sure to check out the very life-like Janitor, designed by Duane Hanson in 1973. Maybe marvel at the Lake Michigan view various locales within the facility, or have a bite or beverage in their lower level cafe while you take a break. You can even explore the parking garage that has inspired luxury car commercials. Enjoy a nice walk or bike ride (rentals are available) around the museum and along the lakefront or downtown. Lakefront trails, Veterans Park, and adjacent sights like Discovery World, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, the U.S. Bank Tower, Henry Maier Festival Park (home of Summerfest), Lakefront State Park, and the Historic Third Ward all beckon.

You’ll find the Milwaukee Art Museum where U.S. 18 ends at Lake Michigan. I-794 and Highway 32 are within blocks. Also, I-43/94 and Highways 38, 59, and 145 all bring you within a mile.

Milwaukee Art Museum Hours:

Tuesday-Wednesday, 10am – 5pm
Thursday, 10am – 8pm
Friday-Sunday, 10am – 5pm
Closed Monday


700 N. Art Museum Drive (where U.S. 18 ends)
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 224-3200

Racine Art Museum on Main Street

Racine Art Museum/Wustum Museum of Fine Arts

The Racine Art Museum (RAM) grew out of the Charles A. Wustum Museum, which was founded in 1941 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (fewer than 5% of the nation’s museums receive this), the Racine Art Museum opened in 2003 and offers 46,000 square feet of galleries, sculptures,

The building’s white acrylic facade is flooded by colored lights each evening and serves as a modernist architectural focal point for Racine’s Main Street (Highway 32, right by the ends of Highways 20 and 38.)

The Wustum Museum section of the RAM features regional and local artists while carrying on the tradition of hosting the museum’s arts education and community outreach programs, which are the largest of their kind in Wisconsin.

The Racine Art Museum offers one of the largest collections of contemporary crafts of any North American museum, including large collections of contemporary teapots, baskets and artist-made jewelry. The permanent collection features more than 4,000 artworks from internationally recognized artists. The museum’s Ceramics collection numbers over 600 objects that include internationally known ceramic sculptors; their largely sculptural Glass collection contains works from artists Harvey Littleton, Dale Chihuly, Joel Philip Meyers, Dan Dailey, Steven Hodder and Judy Jensen.  The museum’s collection of Metals includes one of the largest groupings of contemporary jewelry of any museum. The RAM’s wood collection consists of vessels and furniture, with one of the highlights being a Wendell Castle desk that was in Objects USA.

Handmade Books: The museum owns a large number of handmade books, both hand-printed letterpress examples and larger editioned offset lithography works; it is one of the largest collections of its kind in a Midwestern art museum.

Racine Art Museum

Contemplating an interesting work on the second floor of the Racine Art Museum.

You’ll find the Racine Art Museum right along Main Street in downtown Racine, right near other State Trunk Tour points of interest and attractions like Monument Square, the Kewpee, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Johnson Wax Research Tower and Golden Rondelle, the Racine Zoo, Wind Point Lighthouse, and more. It’s right along Highway 32; Highway 20‘s eastern end is one block south, Highway 38‘s southern end is two blocks north, and Highway 11 is about two miles south.

Racine Art Museum (RAM) Hours:

Closed Monday
Tuesday – Saturday
10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday, Noon – 5:00 pm

RAM’s Wustum Hours
Closed Sunday and Monday
Tuesday – Saturday
10:00 am – 5:00 pm

441 Main Street (Highway 32)
Racine, WI 53403
(262) 638-8300

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

Motorama Auto Museum

Tucked in the Marathon County woods just off Highway 52, the Motorama Auto Museum preserves rare and classic cars for past, present, and future generations to enjoy. With over 400 vehicles on display, it’s the largest auto museum in Wisconsin.

Motorama calls itself “Alfa Heaven” for its collection of over 50 Alfa Romeos, the largest such collection on the continent. Covering over five acres in all, the museum’s inside features some meticulously preserved models while a Boardwalk guides you through the “Boneyard” outside, a pathway filled with often rusted – yet beautiful – relics in the woods. Vehicles in the Boneyard tend to be mid-20th century models.

The vehicles featured by the Motorama Auto Museum focus on not only rarity of models, but also unique engineering design and aesthetics. Models include a 1960 Berkely T60 three wheeler (a quite rare sight indeed), a 1960 Daf 600 electric model they call “Daffy,” a 1955 Buick Wildcat, a one-off prototype Alfa Romeo 165, and many, many more. Among their unique models is the a 1960 SSZ Stradale P2, an exotic ride designed and built right in Marathon County. Along with classic cars, you’ll find old army vehicles, snowmobiles, motorcycles, and more.

Motorama’s new additions for 2016 include a 1953 Kaiser traveler and a 1959 Studebaker Lark coupe old drag race car, which will be put into their driving fleet soon.

Motorama is open from early May through late October, Tuesdays through Saturdays 9am-5pm. Guided tours are offered at 10am, 1pm, and 3pm. Admission is $10 for adults; kids 15 and under are free. You’ll find the Motorama Auto Museum along Highway 52 just one mile west of its junction with U.S. 45 near Aniwa. This is about 10 miles south of Antigo, right around where Marathon, Shawano, and Langlade Counties meet; Highway 47 is also close by.

Check out their Facebook page for the latest updates.

4381 Stradale Lane
Aniwa, WI 54408
(715) 449-2141

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