a charleston reconnaissance… rainbow row

My head is starting to hurt. Did you know that you could go visit a location SO many times that you were certain you knew it very well… and then, you find out you were wrong about a good portion of it? That’s what happened after getting back from visiting Charleston with my mom.

You see, I go to Charleston, South Carolina at least twice a year, if not more. Mondays in Charleston, after  a conference at the beach, with lots of friends… what could be better? Sometimes we visit the Battery, the old churches, or go on a Fort Sumter tour. Several of us insist we go to the Market, even when others are completely tired of it. We always managed to revisit old haunts and explore some new ones. I thought I knew some of it so well.DSC_0385

During the last 14 years or so of visiting Charleston, my mom has only been there once, so I figured it was about time she went. We set aside some time during spring break, and drove down to stay with friends of ours. Thursday morning was quite cold but brilliantly sunny, so we headed straight downtown, with our first goal of going to the Battery and seeing Rainbow Row.

It wasn’t until I got back home and started doing some general research that I realized I had several locations mixed up. I always thought Rainbow Row encompassed all the old antebellum houses on the Battery, but every site I look at identifies them as the 5-7 buildings on East Bay Street, right before you step onto the Battery Wall. Their colors range from pink to yellow, blue, and green, and most normal people would wonder why any sane person would want to live in a house that color. But these homes are a Charleston landmark, and fit in with the colorful nature of downtown Charleston.DSC_0386

So, I had to completely rearrange some of my upcoming Charleston posts, realizing that I was misidentifying some of the locations. From there, the confusion got a bit worse when I tried to figure out whether what I thought was Battery Park… was actually Battery Park! I will try and explain the problem and what I came up with, and anyone who knows the area better can feel free to correct me.

I have always thought of Battery Park as the park and gardens that are on the end of East Bay Street, right on the corner of the peninsula, and the edge of the Battery itself. But it is also known as White Point Gardens, and sometimes, websites refer to the antebellum houses as being part of Battery Park. I have finally concluded that White Point Gardens is probably the official name of the corner park, and Battery Park the unofficial, and I will consider the antebellum houses to be part of The Battery, but not the park. You know, a park is a park, and a neighborhood is a neighborhood, to my way of thinking. And if this isn’t making any sense, it will over the next few days. Call this a prologue, if you will.

[Since writing this, I’ve found that Battery Park is an unofficial designation for the Battery, the homes, and the gardens, found in many guidebooks, but not in any official historical registries.]DSC_0388

If I had known some of this in advance (you know, like I thought I did), I probably would have taken more pictures of the Rainbow Row houses to show you. And less pictures of the opposite brick buildings. After this one, I will continue with our day’s journey, hopefully with no more confusing explanations. DSC_0394

What little I know about Rainbow Row, aside from the eye-catching colors is that after the destruction of the Civil War, the houses on East Bay Street were derelicts or slum housing. Not a nice place to live. Sometime in the early 1900’s, a woman named Dorothy Porcher Legge remodeled them and began the tradition of painting them in pastel colors. It sounds like the light colors help keep the homes cool, just like wearing pale colors would for a person, on a summer day.

Though, there do seem to be a number of legends involving other strange reasons those buildings are painted those colors. But now, the bright colors are their badge of honor, and what makes them famous. That’s quite a way for a derelict house to come, wouldn’t you say?DSC_0502

While walking on the waterfront side of East Bay Street, approaching the Battery, I was also admiring the old brick buildings on our side of the street. They were quite a contrast to the brightly colored buildings on the other side of the road. Also, I made a habit of taking pictures of the cobbled streets, throughout the day. These are not only of interesting patterns and colors, but worn smooth from all the cars and buggies that have driven over them in the last century or two. Driving on those cobbles, even in a car with good shocks was rattling, I can’t imagine driving on them in a wagon. Even on foot, your feet take a beating from them.

Stay with me as we continue down the waterfront towards the Battery of Charleston!DSC_0387

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