The beautiful skies of spring, a profusion of brightly-colored blooms set against brilliant green leaves, the greenish-blue waters of Charleston Harbor – the colors of Charleston are vibrant and stunning. It’s no wonder that Charleston’s historic homes are painted to reflect the beauty found in the natural world.
After the Civil War, the North donated black paint to spruce up the city, but there was backlash against the plain black color, so the government-issue paint was mixed with a little yellow to become the well known “Charleston Green” that is still a popular choice for doors and shutters. Although at a first glance most visitors perceive the color as black, a closer look in good light will reveal the hint of inky dark green.
On East Bay Street, along the Battery, lies the most well-known Charleston landmark – the pastel painted homes of Rainbow Row. Interestingly, these homes were not always so brightly colored. After the Civil War, the area became very run down and was considered a slum. In 1931, Dorothy Porcher Legge and her husband Judge Lionel Legge, purchased the section of homes, and Dorothy decided to paint them a pastel pink to spruce up the area. As time went on, neighboring homes followed suit with a variety of pastel colors. Today, city ordinances require the colors to stay intact.
Another popular Charleston paint color is “haint blue.” This blue paint color ranges from a light bluish green to aqua or sky blue and can be seen on many piazza ceilings, window frames, shutters and doors. According to the Gullah/Geeche tradition, a haint is a malevolent and restless wandering spirit, trapped between life and death. Because the spirits are not able to cross over water, these shades of blue resembling the color of the sea were believed to confuse and block any hovering haints from entering the home. An alternate theory suggests that haint blue resembles the color of the sky, thereby drawing the spirits up and away from any occupants in the home.
The sky theory has evolved into another more practical belief that pesky wasps and spiders may be tricked into avoiding ceilings that are painted in haint blue for nesting. In line with this theory, there is some evidence that the original natural ingredients used to make the color included lime,which acted as an early version of today’s insect repellent.
To learn more about the colors of Charleston,
visit the Historic Charleston Foundation
at 108 Meeting Street downtown.