This week, a crew with cranes and flatbeds will disassemble one of Raleigh’s oldest and most curious landmarks: the collection of giant plaster animals, mushrooms and space-age sculpture known as Gotno Farm.
It stood for 50-plus years on Buffaloe Road, a patch of woods in the bustle off Capital Boulevard, where George T. Morris built a private kingdom of mystery blobs.
A 12-foot pink and green polka-dotted dog with ears standing on end. A frog posed like Rodin’s “The Thinker.” A tower of mysterious Swiss cheese material the family nicknamed “Old Holey.”
In his retirement, Morris played with plaster and wire mesh, creating this menagerie, all the while living in a Lustron house made of fabricated steel – quite the thing in the late 1940s. While Raleigh grew up around it, Gotno Farm drew thousands of visitors into its enchanted quiet.
“We’ve had Sunday school meetings there, picnics in the woods, and my daughter got married there,” said Theda Woodlief, a lifelong neighbor. “It’s just a place of serenity.”
Now, with Morris long-deceased, the treasures of this roadside attraction will scatter. His experimental property has been sold for residential development, but his oddities will be preserved. The Lustron house is bound for an empty lot on Haywood Street in Southeast Raleigh, where a new family will occupy what is thought to be the only remaining model in Raleigh.
What art that can be salvaged is being moved for private storage for now, clearing the woods for new housing. But there is interest both from the city parks and the state Museum of Art, where Morris’ creatures could soon sprout along greenway paths. Maybe, the strange pieces will go up for sale.
“The dog is so whimsical,” said Jenny Harper with the Raleigh Historic Development Commission. “If we weren’t moving them, they would be hauled off to the landfill.”
Morris worked for decades as a plasterer, a craftsman who, according to neighborhood lore, worked on the historic Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, and who landed in Raleigh with his wife, Jessie, after coming to a fork in the road in New Orleans and choosing left.
In 1950, his part of northeast Raleigh consisted entirely of agricultural land, and when he bought his Buffaloe Road lot, he wanted to distinguish himself from the neighboring farmers.
Hence, Gotno Farm.
“We’ve had people drop in,” Jessie told the N&O in 1981, “and they’ll say, ‘Hmmm, G-O-T-N-O? Is that German?”
The Lustron house raised enough eyebrows, then came the sculptures in Morris’ retirement. He made two replicas of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, one of which still graces the State Fair. And while on the Fairgrounds, he came across a discarded midway prize: a plush dog about 4 inches high. Morris recreated it at Gotno Farm: 12 feet high.
“Dad did not consider himself an artist,” said his son, Tom, a retired doctor in Durham, “but more of an artisan. I think the only one that I really have an attachment to is the igloo dog house. We had Dalmatians, and they were all outdoors dogs and actually stayed in that house. In the wintertime, a light bulb was used to heat them.”
Even with Morris gone, and the land kept by the family, Gotno Farm found new notoriety, earning a spot in roadsideamerica.com and a two-page spread in the book “Weird Carolinas.”
The hundreds of mushrooms he created and scattered about the woods have mostly disappeared, Harper said. But with some new help, a sample of his plaster safari park will find a new spot to catch eyes – a welcome note of frivolity.