The Curious History Behind Charleston’s Rainbow Row

Emma Colosia Emma Colosia

rainbow row homes charleston woman

Rainbow Row is a Charleston staple. But what is the history behind it? Sit back and learn more about the Lowcountry.

If you’re a Charleston local or just a visitor, there’s a great chance you’ve noticed the row of happy-colored houses that stand downtown. Yes, we’re talking about the homes located near the historic waterfront. These pastel-colored houses are also known as Rainbow Row. They form a magical line notorious for 14 houses that are painted in the different colors of the rainbow. They were built in classic Charleston architecture and are a popular spot for tourists to take pictures.

Where is it located?

The long row of houses is located along the west side of East Bay Street, just along the Battery, between Tradd and Elliot. The area is known as South of Broad Street, and it’s just walking distance from the beautiful Waterfront Park where the Pineapple Fountain can be found.

The history behind it

It might be surprising to know that Rainbow Row dates back to the 1740s, well before Instagram and photo opportunities existed. The homes from #83 to #107 on East Bay Street belonged to several merchants that used the ground floor as stores and lived above them. After the Civil War, the area fell into abandonment. In 1920, Susan Pringle Frost, the founder of the Preservation Society of Charleston, proposed to renovate the site and the buildings. However, she was unable to raise funds to restore them.

The row stayed the same until Dorothy Porcher Legge bought a section of them and painted them a light shade of pastel pink. Slowly, in the 1930s and 40s, other people bought adjacent homes and painted them in different shades of colors. There is a theory that they painted them all in different colors to capture the attention of drunk sailors so that they would find their way home easily. Another theory suggests that pastel colors were chosen so the houses would stay cool in the hottest months of the year.

The list of houses that make up Rainbow Row

Number 93 – The James Cook House
Number 95 – Charles Cotesworth Pickey’s House
Number 97-101 – Col. Othniel Beale’s House
Number 103 – The Joseph Dulles House
Number 105 – The Dutarque-Guida House
Number 107 – The John Blake Building

Fun fact: Even though these homes are now privately owned, a city ordinance requires the pastel colors to be maintained unflawed.

SEE ALSO: 6 Movies That Were Filmed In Charleston


Featured image by Pam Quiroz @pamquiroz.

Tags: history