Hidden History: The last piece of Raleigh’s lost wonderland, Gotno Farm

Raleigh, N.C. — If you’ve driven down Oberlin Road near Cameron Village in the past few months, you may have noticed a strange sight: An enormous pink, polka-dotted dog peeking out from behind a pair of historic homes.
This 12-foot pup is a decades-old remnant from an eccentric wonderland that once stood in Raleigh, tucked away on a whimsical piece of land by Buffaloe Rd. called Gotno Farm.

In fact, this large plaster pup is the biggest of three identical versions once created by George Morris.
To Becky Harris, he was ”Uncle George,” and she remembers spending a wondrous childhood on the Gotno Farm.

“Everybody in the community loved the place. You went there, and it was like you were in a whole different world. It was so peaceful and so relaxing,” she said.

The dog’s name, she said, was Snoopy — Snoopy the dog!

She remembered Gotno Farm as having many unique, other-worldly statues just like Snoopy.

“Uncle George built a ten-foot-tall frog who sat on the edge of the pond,” she recalled. “He built an igloo dog house made out of plaster; his Dalmatian dog named Deacon stayed in there.”

There was a curious sculpture called ‘Old Holy’ that stood as tall as Morris himself, an enormous plaster urn, a green statue with twisty-turning tendrils. He even built a concrete shuffleboard to entertain guests, according to Harris.

But by far, Harris’ favorite structure was the Round House. She described it as a shelter made out of concrete and plaster, with a big round top and a table underneath. Around the edges was a brick wall, and he had carved out an area where people could walk around.

“The family had yearly reunions at Uncle George and Aunt Jessie’s place,” Harris said. “Many times we’d hang out around the Round House.”

She said Uncle George’s was one of her favorite places to go as a child.

Raleigh’s last known Lustron house

Gotno Farm was more than an eccentric safari of strange plaster creatures. Morris also owned a historically-significant house.

The idea behind Lustron houses was developed in 1946 , during the immediate aftermath of WWII, when Carl Strandland requested emergency loans to build small houses for veterans returning from war. His vision of “metal, pre-frabricated neighborhoods” successfully won the loan from President Truman’s Reconstruction Finance Community, according to North Carolina Modernist Houses’ description of the history of Lustron.

Lustron homes were so tied into WWII that the factories producing their steel were used in WWII to build fighter planes.

The research showed that as of 1949, only 39 Lustron Homes sold in North Carolina. By 1950, the company that built Lustron was bankrupt.

These enameled steel homes were designed with efficiency and cost-effectiveness in mind. To many historians and collectors, Lustron houses represent a unique and nostalgic connection to the post WWII era.

They might be compared to the iconic “Sears Homes,” kit homes that could be ordered by mail in the early to mid- 1900s.

“I remember them building the house. It was a big deal. No one had ever heard of it,” said Harris.
The rarity of the Lustron house made it an ideal target to be rescued by Preservation NC and the Raleigh Historic Development Commission (RHDC).

Myrick Howard, President of Preservation NC, said, “We see ourselves as an ‘animal shelter for historic preservation.’ We rescue a troubled building, and we find someone who can take care of it. Then we let them take over.”

Read full story…

(WRAL, 1/31/20)