In 1873, John Michael Kohler purchased a foundry in rural Wisconsin that produced a variety of cast-iron and steel products. Ten years later Kohler took a product in his line and heated it to 1700°F and sprinkled it with enamel powder. Adding a picture of it in his one-page catalog, he called it “a horse trough/hog scalder…when furnished with four legs will serve as a bathtub.” Kohler was in the plumbing business.
In 1900 the Kohler Company built a factory just outside of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a medium-size town that sits along Lake Michigan. The factory needed workers, and immigrants came from all over to work there. Originally called Riverside, the village was founded as a model company town.
Thus, the village of Kohler was born. More importantly for future tourists, the American Club was built in 1918 to house those who worked in the factory across the street. At the club they ate, played and studied English, all in hopes of becoming American citizens.
Today, a restaurant, the Immigrant Restaurant and Winery Bar, has replaced the old laundry, luxury hotel rooms take the place of dormitories, a pub sits in a basement area where workers had a bowling alley and the Wisconsin Room is in the former mess hall.
In 1978, the American Club was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Herbert V. Kohler Jr. made the brilliant decision to turn the Tudor-style building into a luxury hotel. The renovation lasted three years and sought to retain the historic American spirit of the original structure.
Today, it’s a paean to the past with its elegant light fixtures, oak-paneled walls, charming pictures of early workers and Wisconsinites in the American Club, part of the whole resort known as Destination Kohler. Guests can golf at one of two world-class courses, relax in the newly renovated spa, dine at one of 12 eateries, or read the newspaper while sipping coffee in the Greenhouse, a gorgeous conservatory with stained glass windows overlooking one of the many gardens. In fact, the whole village is a certified botanical garden. Across the street, the factory, still in use, looms as a reminder of the storied history.
Kohler Waters Spa
It does seem only natural that Kohler would have a first-class spa. After all, it has a long history in the bath and water business. From hydrotherapy treatments to relaxation treatments such as the signature Kohler massage, it’s almost more about the experience. First, get there early to enjoy a dip in the spa’s mosaic-tiled coed relaxation pool with an 8-foot wall of water cascading at one end. Imagine it as one of the Roman baths Pliny the Elder once wrote about. Guests can relax all day on an uber-comfy chaise longue, ordering food from the spa menu to be delivered poolside. Take a dip in the men’s or women’s whirlpools, plunge pools, saunas and steam rooms. There’s even a rooftop deck with an indoor lounge with a whirlpool and an outdoor relaxation area.
Kohler Design Center
Redesigned during the pandemic, the Kohler Design Center, next door to the spa, is part museum, part store and part showroom. And according to Justin Gephart, Director of Sales, it’s also now used as event space.
With 36,000 square feet over three levels, it’s hard not to be awed by the rows and rows of faucets, the toilets hanging interestingly with mannequins on the wall, the gorgeous waterfall and high-tech screens and even the history exhibits in the lower level. The lower level also has a mini art gallery with works from artists who were given access to the tools and materials of the Kohler factory. If you walk around town, you’ll see many others as sculptures as well.
If you find yourself in Sheboygan, make plans to spend an afternoon at the American Club and take in the history of Kohler.