Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Story of the McGraws of the Bloody Bucket of Acline Road

These days after moving south of Burnt Store Road, I frequently cross the railroad tracks from Tamiami Trail onto Acline Road to get to the History Center.  As I drive along this peaceful country back road as it winds its way along Alligator Creek, it would never have occurred to me that one day long ago there was a moonshine tavern here referred to by various names over the course of its existence, with one name that sticks out as a reference to its violent past, "the Bloody Bucket."

The Bloody Bucket in the early 1900s was a notorious oasis in the midst of  the "dry", alcohol verboten counties of south Florida.  Even before prohibition set in nationwide, Florida counties including DeSoto (Charlotte after 1921) were given an ok by the state to prohibit alcohol sales.   By regulars of the place, the Bucket was referred to as "McGraw's Place," after it owners and moonshine makers, Geroge "Mac" and Virginia McGraw.

The McGraws provided the only escape for workers at the village known as Acline (AC-Line from the Atlantic Coast Railroad stop) where there was a turpentine camp and lumbering operation. Essentially Acline was a loading dock where turpentine and lumber could be loaded onto boxcars. The McGraws made a strawberry wine concoction that they mixed from strawberry flavoring bought from the Seminole Pharmacy in downtown Punta Gorda and moonshine.   Mrs. McGraw would pour the flavoring and moonshine together in big wash tubs.  This was sold to mostly younger boys, while the turpentiners, lumber jacks and railroad section gang that frequented the place would buy straight moonshine for two-bits (a quarter) a pint.

Saturday nights, after the Acline area workers were paid and the place became rowdy according to a quote from Harry Goulding, who was the bookkeeper for the McGraws, "a pint of moonshine was enough to dull a thirsty man's assessment of another's size and fighting ability."  Knives and guns became the great equalizers.

Mac was a mean man according to Goulding.  And one day, the sheriff got a call that there was a shooting at the Bucket.  When he arrived, the sheriff found Mac McGraw and another black man dead from shot-gun blasts.  Mrs. McGraw claimed that the black man had come to the door brandishing a gun asking for money and whiskey.  McGraw, she said, cursed him and the man shot him and ran.  She claimed that McGraw, mortally wounded, crawled after the man and shot him dead and then also died.

The Sheriff wasn't the only one to doubt the preposterous story.  More likely, as was suspected, either Virginia McGraw, or her boyfriend Dick Windham (suspect in the Marshall Bowman murder) killed Mac and then the black man to pin the killing on him.

After the Tamiami Trail was built (around 1921), the Bucket lost its front entrance and Mrs. McGraw moved her door to the side and continued to serve customers who came as far away as Tampa or Miami for whiskey.  During prohibition, Ma McGraw (as she referred to) had bootlegging connections from the Bahamas to procure whiskey.  After prohibition was repealed in 1932, she hired waitresses and turned the place into a legitimate bar and restaurant and renamed the place, "the Alligator Bar."  A.C. Frizzell, Charlotte County's richest cattleman hungout there, and ended up marrying one of the waitresses after his first wife passed away.

Mrs. McGraw sold the place years later to one of the County Commissioners (researching as to who this was -- see below perhaps the County Commissioner was Dick Windham).  Another name it took on before finally disappearing was the Acline Wine Place.

Addendum from Lynn Harrell (Charlotte County Historical Center)

Dick Windham was appointed by Governor Hardee to the first board of county commissioners when Charlotte County was formed in 1921. He and Virginia McGraw were married in 1946 in Lee County. She died in 1948, he died in 1953. George "Mac" McGraw, Virginia McGraw Windham and Richard "Dick" Windham are buried side-by-side in Indian Spring Cemetery -- Virginia is in the middle. The McGraw and Windham graves are among those featured during the Charlotte County Historical Center's walking tours of Indian Spring, btw. Next cemetery tour will be during Founders' Week in December.


John J. Panio, Sr. of Cape Coral, who passed away on March 7, 2014 was employed by the City of New York Department of Transportation and relocated to Florida in 1972 to purchase the Alligator Bar in Punta Gorda. . 


  1. Dono says - Here is a past owner of the Alligator Bar

  2. Dono again - I could only access the last half of a News Press Fort Meyers story - Sputnik was overhead and Punta Gorda was rough and tumble that evening.
    Then I saw a car's lights come on back of the cottage. Just after-1 got on the road a red and white station wagon apepared in front of her place. I chased after it and got the license number. Run Me Down "Then the red convertible cut in on me. They were attempting to run me down and I started back toward the restaurant to get my husband. They blocked me, the station wagon in front and the ' convertible in the rear. A man and woman jumped out of the station wagon, "I rolled down the window and told them I would get my hus band but they said 'We'll get you' repeatedly and used profane lan guage. I rolled up the window, My sister dropped in the front of the front seat and they didn t seem able to see her but kept saying she was in the car, "The big man, Lt. Thomas, tried to kick in the car window, Then the lady seemed to have lost something and they started hunting it, still threatening me. I saw the lights of a car coming and yelled 'Police' and they took off. It was Don Kaiser in his taxi and we got him to take us in be fore they could come back. "However, they chased us. Don turned off his lights on Main Street in Punta Gorda and went down the alley to the sheriff's office, then to the police station." Like a Wild Man airs. smith said, I'll never forget how the big man looked it was like a wild man." Asked if her sister admitted having an affair with Lt. Thomas' father, which had been reported the cause behind the premeditated assault, Airs. Smith said: 'No sir, she didn't even know him although she had seen the lieutenant in a restaurant when he was on vacation last summer. She also knew Cail who was in the restaurant only last week to eat. Indeed, she did not know the older Thomas." Keeler said the senior Thomas was about 58 years old. He re ported Thomas' neck was slashed around the holidays in 1950 in a fight at the Alligator Bar, near Punta Gorda, and he was near death for several days. Punta Gorda law enforcement officers knew nothing about Thomas being on probation. He lives in DeSoto County