It is hard to imagine today that the houses in Charleston known as Rainbow Row were once the inspiration for the opera Porgy & Bess. This row of thirteen pastel homes, which were built in the 1700s, has had a very colorful history. Originally constructed by merchants as stores, with family dwellings on the upper levels, they were a part of a larger bustling commercial neighborhood. In 1778, however, there was a fire that distorted all but the buildings that remain today.
In their heyday they had been the center of Charlestonian life, but after the devastation of the Civil War, the city of Charleston fell on hard times. This area suffered as well. The buildings, falling into disrepair, were in almost slum like conditions until the late 1930s. At that time the houses became known as Cabbage Row because the inhabitants, descendants of enslaved people, sold cabbages & other garden vegetables from their windows.
It was this period in history that inspired the 1925 DuBose Heyward novel Porgy. The book romanticized African American life in the fictitious neighborhood of Catfish Row, which was drawn almost entirely from Charleston's very real Cabbage Row. It was the musical adaptation of this novel that was the basis for the George Gershwin opera Porgy & Bess.
Now multi-million dollar homes, most of these houses were restored by 1945 & painted the Caribbean pastel colors that you see today.