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Weren’t there mule traders who used to have stables on Castle Hayne Road?

Ben Steelman

This photograph circa 1890 shows Eliza Walker Meares and unidentified companion in a mule-drawn carriage. Courtesy of the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear.

According to longtime area resident John Tinga, J.P. Newton sold mules and other farm animals from his barns on Castle Hayne Road, south of Wrighsboro, near the fork that used to lead to the airport.

Newton made news in 1927, when one of his mule trades landed before a justice of the peace. Theo Brown said he had bought a mule from Newton for $100, but the mule proved to be “moon-eyed” – that is, it saw OK in certain phases of the moon but was nearly blind in others.

Accordingly to a rather jocular report in the Wilmington News-Dispatch for Sept. 17, 1927, Justice W.A. McGowan mediated a settlement, whereby Newton would take back the moon-eyed mule and replace it with a comparable fit mule without this handicap. (Two disinterested citizens, chosen by the court, would inspect the replacement mule in advance.)

In the Wilmington Morning Star for May 19, 1948 – under a heading “NO GAS NEEDED” – C.S. Newton advertised that he had for sale “A Carload of Native Tennessee Mules and Horses, Ages 4 to 10 Years” at his place on Castle Hayne Road. Newton also offered “a few pairs of close mated mules. The best mules you will see this season.” The ad concluded, “We also specialize in snaking horses.” It is unclear if C.S. Newton and J.P. Newton were related.

(According to the website Equestrian Life, “snaking” is an old-fashioned term referring to stallions signaling dominance, often by turning its head and pointing – usually to signal that he considered a particular mare his own. Mares would sometimes “snake” to lead their foals. We’re not sure, but apparently Newton was breaking horses of this snaking behavior when it was unwanted.)

Both these items come from the Bill Reaves clipping files, now housed in the local history room at the New Hanover County Public Library. Mules were obviously once a much bigger deal than they are today. Newspaper items from the early 1900s and 1910s often report mule sales in downtown Wilmington. For instance, F.T. Mills of Kentucky Horse and Mule Co. advertised in the Star for an auction to be held on Feb. 29., 1912, of 50 horses and mules “all broke and ready to work” at Mills Stables, 116 S. Second St.

Smoak & McCreary of Winston-Salem  announced an auction for Saturday morning, May 16, 1908, of “extra good Virginia-Tennessee and Kentucky horses and mules” in its stables at 227 Church St.

The Dispatch, on March 3, 1920, reported that the city of Wilmington’s street department had sold seven surplus mules for “approximately $400.” Two other mules, considered crippled, were also for sale, according to the item. (Why someone would buy a crippled mule, and how much it would fetch, are best left to the imagination.)

Mule stories often peppered early newspapers. The Wilmington Weekly Star of July 30, 1886, included a tongue-in-cheek item about a mule named Esau Boney “with a bewitching paint-brush tail” who kicked the driver of a dray who whipped it too harshly. A constable allegedly took out a warrant for “assault and battery” against Esau, but the newspaper reported, “The warrant was never served.” The writer’s sympathies were apparently with Esau.

Similarly, the Star reported on July 12, 1878, that a mule was arrested and taken to police headquarters “for acting disorderly on the street.” “He (the mule) was released yesterday on his good behavior,” the report concluded.

In a Dec. 28, 1923, item datelined Cerro Gordo, the Star reported that farmer N.M. Green Sr. claimed to own a mule that was 33 years old. Green said he bought the mule in 1895, when it was 5 years old. Now, he planned to reward the mule, named “Charlie,” for 28 years of loyal service by retiring it.

In 1893, however, the Wilmington Messenger reported that John Harris “who lives on the Newbern road (roughly, modern U.S. 17) a few miles from the city” brought in a 38-year-old mule to be shod in the blacksmith shop at Quinlivan and Carroll. “The age of the mule is well authenticated,” the report said, adding that Harris “now gets as much work out of the old fellow as he does any horse or mule on the place.”

The Wilmington News, on Sept. 24, 1946, reported that “a mule-driven wagon was observed coming down the Castle Hayne highway near Roosevelt Gardens at 9:30 this morning, but there was no driver in the driver’s seat and the mule seemingly was plodding along on his own and under his own power.”

The driver apparently had suffered an epileptic seizure and fallen back into the wagon, and the mule apparently kept on its accustomed route at its usual speed. “Roadside operators” eventually stopped the mule, the unsigned News story continued. Sheriff’s deputies found the driver was still alive and “whisked him to James Walker Memorial Hospital” where he was treated.


I notice that people who live on Third Street (and other streets downtown) have to park on the street. When the houses were built, did people have horses? Where did they keep them?

What’s the history of Rose Ice Co.?

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4 Responses to “ Weren’t there mule traders who used to have stables on Castle Hayne Road?”

  1. On January 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm John Kennedy wrote:

    I am sure the “snaking mule” referred in this article meant a mule that was “broke” (trained) to pull a fresh cut log from the stump to the saw mill site. This was done without a mule “skinner” (driver), as the mule would pull the log to the mill and return to the next log site without being “driven”. I’m old, and I have seen it done when I was a kid visiting my grandfather’s saw mill.

  2. On February 7, 2013 at 11:17 am Scott kern wrote:

    The newton mule barn is still standing on my property at 1631 castle hayne road, and is still used to store hay for horses and my “mule” Roscoe. The property was originally known as newton farms and was well known for the quality of the mules it dealt in. I’m told it became a tractor dealership when the use of working mules became less popular.

  3. On February 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm Stanley B. Newton wrote:

    My grandfather was CS Newton. His father was JP Newton. I was too young to see any mules around my grandpa’s place. He had eventually moved into selling “mules with motors” ie:Tractors
    He was a good, hard-working man with a great sense of humor.

  4. On September 2, 2013 at 6:47 am Deb Kidwell wrote:

    Love all mule history, however, I just have to point out that while the wagon in the photograph may be a “mule wagon”….it is being pulled by a donkey! Don’t worry, it happens all the time! Thank you for all the mule stories. Deb and the longears, Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm, Martin, TN

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