Michael Patrick Shiels, For the Lansing State Journal
Published 2:38 p.m. ET Sept. 23, 2020

Factory tours in the industrial Midwest are a time-honored tradition. I recall a behind-the-scenes brewery tour in Frankenmuth; the Kellogg cereal tour in Battle Creek; watching apples being smashed at Uncle John’s Cider Mill; and seeing cars made on the Ford Motor Company Assembly Line tour in Dearborn. Getting access inside a factory is exciting but no one would be thrilled about living next to one – until the Kohler plumbing company master-planned an employee neighborhood north of Milwaukee which eventually also became a destination luxury resort.

Aquatic innovation is in action at Destination Kohler’s hydro spa. (Photo: Harrison Shiels)

“Walter Kohler traveled to study European garden cities and then in 1917 created a space where factory employees could live and work with adequate recreation,” said historian Angela Miller. Now known as “Destination Kohler,” the resort’s posh American Club five-star lodge began as a dormitory for factory workers to get three meals a day and their laundry done at cost instead of staying in substandard boarding houses. Miller manages the resort’s Kohler history museum inside the Kohler Design Center, which is open to the public and where the factory tours commence.

“Guests can discover our past and have a peek into what we’re working on now,” said Jason Keller, senior manager of Kohler’s kitchen and bath group. The products have come a long way since Kohler’s founder, John Michael Kohler, in 1873, added four feet to a hog scalder and enameled it to create a bathtub. “Intelligent toilets, touchless faucets; multi-head showers; hydrotherapy massage sprays, and a voice-activated digital shower which allows you to program very concise settings and varied spa-like experiences including different temperatures for your legs and shoulders; steam, lighting, and sound. You can create a rain storm effect right in your own shower, or you can program a three-to-five-minute wakeup shower with citrus aroma, for instance.”

Speaking of aroma, an intelligent toilet could include a fan, a heated seat, music, touchless flushing and various functions. “Let’s say it does everything for you,” Miller added.

On-site pampering takes place at the adjacent, extensive Kohler Waters Spa where the experts even go so far as to advise aquatic preparation before a spa treatment: “two-minute shower rinse at neutral temperature; five minutes in the whirlpool; cool plunge pool dip; five minutes in the steam room; and a two-minute shower rinse.” Kohler clearly takes water seriously. One-of-a-kind treatments offered include Vichy shower experiences such as Tranquil Tides; Lavender Rain; Cascading Waterfall Massage; and the Hydro Rock treatment, among many others.

There are resort lodging options “on campus” in addition to the American Club, too, including the contemporary Inn on Woodlake attached to shopping and dining including Taverne on Woodlake, where the house aromatherapy scent, Hollyhock, is extended into a cocktail called the Hollyhocktail: Ketel One Citroen vodka, Lillet Blanc, St. George Botanivore Gin, Amaro Nonino, Elderflower liqueur, basil, grapefruit, lemon and bitters. The beer cheese soup at the Horse and Plow, on the menu in the casual pub in the American Club, is a Wisconsin tradition; as is a mid-round bratwurst on any of Destination Kohler’s Pete Dye-designed golf courses including two at Blackwolf Run, which hosted two U.S. Women’s Opens and the dramatic, lakefront, Straits Course at Whistling Straits, where three PGA Championships have been staged in advance of the 2021 Ryder Cup matches. Fly fishing, yoga, and many other fitness-related activities, including nearby cross-country skiing in the winter, are recreational options.

Destination Kohler is an hour north of Milwaukee which is easiest accessed by taking a two-and-a-half-hour ride across Lake Michigan from Muskegon on the Lake Express high-speed car ferry.

Contact Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected] His radio program may be found at MiBigShow.com or weekday mornings from 9-noon on WJIM AM 1240

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