From 79–107 East Bay, between Tradd and Elliot Streets, is one of the most photographed sights in the United States, colorful Rainbow Row. The reason for its name becomes obvious when you see the array of pastel-colored mansions, all facing the Cooper River.
The bright, historically accurate colors—nine of them, to be exact—are one of the many vestiges you’ll see around town of Charleston’s Caribbean heritage, a legacy of the English settlers from the colony of Barbados who were among the city’s first citizens.
The Rainbow Row homes are unusually old for this fire-, hurricane-, and earthquake-ravaged city, with most dating from 1730 to 1750. As you admire Rainbow Row from across East Battery, keep in mind you’re actually walking on what used to be water. These houses were originally right on the Cooper River, their lower stories serving as storefronts on the wharf. The street was created later on top of landfill, or “made land” as it’s called locally.
Besides its grace and beauty, Rainbow Row is of vital importance to American historic preservation. These were the first Charleston homes to be renovated and brought back from early-20th-century seediness. The restoration projects on Rainbow Row directly inspired the creation of the Charleston Preservation Society, the first such group in the United States.
Continue walking up the High Battery past Rainbow Row and find Water Street. This aptly named little avenue was in fact a creek in the early days, acting as the southern border of the original walled city. The large brick building on the seaward side housing the Historic Charleston Foundation sits on the site of the old Granville bastion, a key defensive point in the wall.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition