What is Rainbow Row?

An iconic site in Charleston and visited on our Historic Charleston tour, is Rainbow Row.  A series of row houses near the historic water front painted bright pastel colors, Rainbow Row is rightly named.

The Colors Of The Rainbow In Architectural Form In Charleston

There is a place in Charleston where you will see tourists gathering to take photographs by the droves. This is a unique and historic area that is best known for the 14 houses that are painted in the colors of the rainbow and aptly named Rainbow Row. Not only is this one of the top 10 things to see in Charleston, but the homes are prime examples of the architecture that has made Charleston such an appealing destination for residents and tourists alike.

Rainbow Row in Charleston SC

The Origins Of Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row dates back to about 1740 and it used to be situated in the waterfront district of the city back in the 18th century. The homes run from 83 to 107 East Bay Street and they used to belong to merchants who would run the stores on the ground floor and live above them. This not only saved them money, since they owned the entire property, but it also cut down their commute time to nil.

Falling Into Disrepair

After the breakout of the Civil War, the area fell into disrepair, and for a while, this area was little more than a slum. This all changed, however, when a woman called Dorothy Porcher Legge went ahead and invested in some of the homes on this row and painted them a light shade of pastel pink. Over time, people started snapping up the other homes within the same row and they too began renovating and painting their homes, often in various shades of the pastel color range.

The Reasoning Behind The Colors Of The Rainbow

These days, people can’t seem to come to an agreement as to why the homes are all painted different colors. There are some people who believe that the hues were used to capture the attention of drunk sailors who might not have otherwise been able to find their way home. Others believe that the colors had something to do with the merchants advertising their wares with the assistance of the hues. On the other hand, this could have been the result of a more practical concern. Due to the heat that is often so invasive in Charleston, it is thought that people might have turned to pastel colors to try and lower the temperatures within the properties.

79 to 107 East Bay Street

A look at each of the properties on East Bay Street is enough to tell you that these houses are steeped in rich history. The two-part building on 79 to 81 East Bay Street is situated at the Southern tip of the row and it dates back to around 1845. It happens to be the most modern building on the row. Number 83 is known as the William Stone House, and it was constructed in 1784 by one of the merchants who left for England during the American Revolutionary War. This property was later restored. Number 87 was constructed back in 1778 and it was eventually destroyed by a fire. It was James Gordon who purchased the building in 1792 and went on to restore it before it was bought over by Susan Pringle Frost in the 1920s.

Number 89 was called the Deas-Tunno House and it was constructed to be used as a commercial building in 1770. This property is slightly unique from the other homes on the row because it actually has a side yard that separates it from the adjoining home on the south. Number 91 was purchased by William Greenwood and Peter Leger in 1774 and was destroyed 4 years later. A merchant called Nathaniel Russell purchased the building in 1973, although it was passed on to Susan Pringle Frost in 1920.

Number 93 is called the James Cook House and it was constructed in 1778 for commercial purposes. Today, it is the yellow house that stands proudly three houses from the left. Number 95 is one of the mysteries in the row because no one is quite sure who built it. It was purchased by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in 1779 and was restored by John McGowan, the playwright, in 1938. Today, visitors will notice it as the green house.

The houses that stand proudly on Rainbow Row aren’t just unique because of their colors; each one has a rich history and can tell visitors a lot about Charleston through the ages. No tour of this area is complete without a visit to the row and perhaps a picture to commemorate a visit to one of the most historic sites in this area of the world.

Where Is the Rainbow Row Located?

map of Charleston

Along the west side of East Bay Street, between Tradd Street and Elliot Street, you will find these colorful houses. It’s the area known as South of Broad Street and not far from the Waterfront Park. From the Charleston Visitor Center in historic Charleston on Meeting Street, it is a 25 minute walk to Rainbow Row. Head South on Meeting Street for 11 blocks, left on Broad Street for 3 blocks to East Bay Street and you’ll be at the north end of Rainbow Row. From the Waterfront Park, you’ll find Concord Street running north-south along the park and you can turn west on Adgers Wharf, Boyce Whart, Elliot Street  or Exchange Street to dead end on East Bay Street with Rainbow Row direct in front! If you’ll be driving through the city, East Bay Street is also highway 52 headed south to water, you’ll see Rainbow Row on your right once you pass Elliot Street.

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