You’ve seen it on Charleston postcards and on many Charleston souvenirs but why are the buildings of so colorful? Believe it or not, Rainbow Row has not always been so bright and beautiful.
Constructed in the mid-18th century on 83-107 East Bay Street, it was originally a commerce center on the waterfront built to serve the wharves and docks of the port of Charleston.
Merchants lived on the second floor and had their stores on the first floor of the buildings. Unfortunately, after the Civil War and until the early 1900s, Rainbow Row was considered a slum and was a very run-down area of Charleston.
A woman named Dorothy Porcher Legge owned houses 99 through 101. To improve the homes, she painted them a bright and beautiful pastel pink, which was from the colonial Caribbean color scheme at the time. Others in the area began following in her footsteps by painting their houses beautiful pastel colors to improve the overall appearance of the neighborhood. But the coloring was not just for aesthetics: Light colors helped keep the interior of the houses cooler. (Or you could choose to believe one of the urban legends, like the one about painting the homes differing colors in order to help lead drunken sailors back to the proper house!)
Today, Rainbow Row consists of 13 private residences that all together make up one of the more famous, and certainly most painted, landmarks in Charleston. Stroll down Broad, Market, or Church Street, and you’ll notice many of the local art in the windows is inspired by this particular cluster of homes on East Bay — not to mention countless postcards, T-shirts, mugs, and more. The city’s ordinances protect the color of each house on Rainbow Row, keeping it as one of the most recognizable and photographed sights in Charleston.