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. .