Rainbow Row in Charleston is a great example of South Carolinian Georgian row house architecture. Though many of these homes are historic, their bright colored hues are slightly new to Charleston’s architectural landscape. Find out how these homes got their pastel colors, how to get to Rainbow Row and what to see when you’re there in this self-guided tour of Rainbow Row.
How to Get to Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row is located on E. Bay Street — just one block from Charleston’s waterfront. The colorful homes begin on Tradd Street and march up all the way to Elliot Street. You can easily get here by car, foot (only a 20-minute walk from Marion Square) or by way of the 7 or 211 buses.
Rainbow Row’s History
Rainbow Row’s history is as colorful as its facades. The homes here were built in the 1700s and 1800s (though many of the newer homes were simply reconstructed after the 1886 earthquake). Famous politicians and merchants once lived in these homes. At each stop on the below self-guided tour, you’ll find interesting history, stories and architectural features that Charleston is known for.
Painting Rainbow Row
What’s shocking to most visitors (but not you!) is that Rainbow Row wasn’t always the glorious technicolor splendor that it is today. In fact, it wasn’t until 1931 that the buildings were painted in pastel colors.
We can thank resident Dorothy Haskell Porcher Legge for this colorful contribution to these Georgian homes. After purchasing no. 99 through no. 101, she began painting them in bright pink colors, reminiscent of Caribbean colonial homes.
One Charleston homeowner can’t own a beautiful pink house while all the others remain drab shades of gray and beige. Other homeowners on Rainbow Row began painting their homes in Caribbean color schemes to follow suit.
Self-Guided Tour of Rainbow Row
Each home on Rainbow Row has its own unique history — to go with the unique shades of each structure. We’ve included a brief history of the houses and their owners, but if you want to know more, you can always take our Charleston History Tour to find out more about stories of each home.
Tradd Street House
Rainbow Row begins on the corner of Tradd and East Bay Streets. The mint green building with green shutters is one of the newest homes on Rainbow Row as much of it was rebuilt after the 1886 earthquake (“new” being slightly relative in this sense). Though it may be green today, not all the homes on Rainbow Row are painted the same colors they were throughout the years. In fact, this home was once a lavender/blue with navy blue shutters.
William Stone House
Built in 1784, this home is named after the owner who rebuilt the structure after a fire in 1784. Stone was a Tory who moved back to England during the Revolutionary War. After Stone left, it was owned by several merchants. During the 1941 renovations of Rainbow Row, it was restored by Susan Pringle Frost.
James Gordon House
Like the William Stone House, this house was also destroyed by a fire. It was originally built in 1778 and rebuilt in 1792 by the namesake owner, James Gordon. Susan Pringle Frost also restored this one.
Once the location of a merchant store and home, this house was built in the late 1770s and features a garden and old slave quarters.
James Cook House
Built in 1778, this home is known for its impressive drawing room and library.
Charles Cotesworth Pickney
You might hear the name “Pickney” around Charleston a lot; the Pickneys are kind of a big deal here. This home was once owned by Charles Cotesworth Pickney, an American statesman as well as John McGowan, a playwright.
Othniel Beale/Dorothy Legge
Othniel Beale (who built house nos. 99-101) lived in this house. This is the home that Dorothy Legge restored in 1931.
Joseph Dulles House
This house was built by Joseph Dulles, an ancestor of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.
Though the house was named after its former resident, Giovanni Domenico Guida, in Italian immigrant, the first occupant was a man named Lewis Dutarque in 1778. Yet the Victorian ironwork on the building is work of Guida.
Possibly the house with the most interesting history, no. 107 was once owned by Revolutionary War hero and senator John Blake in 1791. The home at one time also featured a two-story kitchen house!
Where to Eat Near Rainbow Row
When you need a break from sightseeing, check out a few of our favorite restaurants near Rainbow Row to relax and enjoy some southern comfort.
Magnolias is a great example of upscale southern cuisine. They’ve been featured on both the Food Network and Travel Channel. You can expect typical lowcountry fare married to international flavors at this beloved restaurant. Dishes include the down south egg roll with collard greens and Tasso ham, lobster grits and housemade pimento cheese.
Like Magnolias, High Cotton specializes in elevated traditional lowcountry fare. Their brunch menu is legendary and includes favorites such as she crab soup, crab cakes Benedict and buttermilk fried oysters.
It may have tavern in the name, but this upscale restaurant is in a cozy and elegant setting. You can just as easily find chilled oysters on the half shell here as you would caviar Tater Tots. Entrees include grilled pork porterhouse and seared scallops.
What to Do Near Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row is in the heart of the Downtown Charleston’s historic district. It’s near many famous attractions. Some of the other attractions you might want to visit nearby include:
This dungeon was once used by the British in the Revolutionary War. It was also where many of Charleston’s enslaved were kept before sold to owners all over the South. You can learn about the slave and Revolutionary War history of Charleston here.
The history of slavery in the South is an ongoing conversation. The Old Slave Mart Museum does a great job of educating visitors on the conditions of slave ships and the fate of many enslaved African Americans in Charleston.
Charleston’s Pineapple Fountain
One of the most photographed structures in Charleston, the pineapple fountain is a symbol of the hospitality of the South. It’s located right on the waterfront, and you can get great views of Patriot’s Point and the harbor from here.
White Point Gardens (the Battery)
Another great photo spot, the Battery is one of the most scenic (and historic places in Charleston). Originally built as a public garden before transforming into a battery during the Civil War, this is one of the most popular spots to enjoy views of the water (and learn a little history).
Rainbow Row History Tour
We invite you to join us for our Charleston History Tour where you can hear the stories of the famous Charlestonians who once called Rainbow Row their home. We also stop at a few of the other sites on this list, so you can learn even more history.
Our tours are both informative and entertaining. While some travelers simply want to learn a little info about a site before visiting, our tours offer an in-depth look into Charleston’s past.
Family owned and operated from the beginning, Walks of Charleston is passionate about the history, architecture and culture of Charleston and is dedicated to sharing it with you for a memorable experience on every tour.
“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time”
– Steven Wright