Palmetto Carriage Works Blog

The History of Rainbow Row in Charleston

Anywhere you walk in Charleston’s historic district, you will find fascinating history and Rainbow Row is no exception. The 13 brightly colored and eye-catching homes all have an equally captivating history to match their looks.

These homes, constructed around 1740, actually used to be waterfront, and if you take a look across the street from them you can see on the cobblestone road where the old sea wall used to be. That made these the perfect homes for merchants, who would sell their products on the ground floor and live up on the top floor. Now, at that time these houses were not painted in bright shades of pastels, they were actually all painted the same shade of lime green. These bright colors didn’t come around till after the civil war.

After the civil war the area fell into disrepair and was not an area you would want to live in like it is today. Even in the disrepair they were in, these homes were saved and not torn down due to the efforts of the Preservation Society started in Charleston by Susan Pringle-Frost. The society was started because of Frost’s passion for saving Charleston’s old architecture and homes from demolition and out-of-state purchasers. In 1931 a section of the houses was purchased, restored, and painted pastel pink, the rest of the 12 houses soon followed with other pastel colors. 

The name Rainbow Row didn’t come around till the 1980’s and it actually didn’t come from Charlestonians. It came from when National Geographic did a photo spread on Charleston. There were many black and white photos but only one color photo, and that was a picture of the 13 pastel painted row houses with the title of “Rainbow Row”. The name caught on and is now what the brightly colored houses go by.

While the houses are all privately owned and not open for tours, it is still worthwhile to take a walk past these beautiful and historic homes. They all have stories to tell and their pastel colors will stand out in any photo you take.