Rainbow Row just may be the most photographed area of historic Charleston. This charming row of colorful historic homes is a major tourist attraction and a perfect example of the old row houses that were very distinctly Charleston.
Rainbow Row was built in the mid 18th century on 83-107 East Bay Street. To begin with, this was a commerce center on Charleston’s waterfront, built to serve the wharfs and docks of the very vibrant and busy Port of Charleston. Merchants worked in their stores on the first floor and called the top floors home.
Unfortunately, conditions here severely deteriorated after the Civil War. The area became slum-like and the homes were in disrepair. In the early part of the 20th century a woman named Dorothy Porcher Legge purchased the homes on 99-101 East Bay Street and began to renovate them. She painted this row of homes pastel pink, for the popular colonial Caribbean color scheme. Eventually other homes in the row were purchased and renovated and their owners followed her example, painting the homes in different shades of pastel colors.
As with any historic area with lots of character, there are many stories as to the reasons for the different paint colors on Rainbow Row. One story says the houses were painted in different vibrant colors so drunken sailors coming from port would know which house they were supposed to sleep in. Other stories tell of merchants who used different color paints so illiterates would know which store to shop at without having to read the sign. Either way, the results are delightful.
Today, Rainbow Row consists of 14 private residences that are part of one of the most famous architectural landmarks in Charleston. Considering Charleston’s history, that’s saying a lot. When visiting Charleston, make sure you don’t miss this most recognizable of sights and be sure to bring your camera!