Rainbow Row Part III - The Susan Pringle Frost Connection


Completing our exploration of Rainbow Row (79 East Bay at the corner of East Bay and Tradd Streets to 107 East Bay), we'll stop at 83 and 87 East Bay Street, both of which buildings have a connection to Susan Pringle Frost, founder of the Preservation Society of Charleston in 1920. Frost, who could trace her Charleston roots back to the early years of the settlement, was a court stenographer for many years. She was also a suffragette with a passion for saving Charleston's historic architecture. Being the first woman realtor in Charleston, Frost was in a unique position to realize that passion.

In the early 1900s, most of the buildings we now know as Rainbow Row were rundown, decaying, and in danger of being demolished. This was well before Charleston passed the first historic zoning ordinance in the United States in 1931. Susan Pringle Frost didn't have a lot of money to purchase real estate; however, she did have friends, one of whom was a DuPont, and Frost was able to borrow the funds to strategically purchase endangered historic properties.

Like many of the original buildings on this row, 83 East Bay and 87 East Bay replaced earlier structures that were burned in the great fire of 1788. In 1920, Frost bough 87 East Bay Street, the tall yellow house with the red roof in the photograph, and renovated it. This house was built in 1792 by a Scot named James Gordon. He was a merchant, so certainly his business would have been on the first floor with his residence above.

Around 1941, Frost bought and renovated the second yellow house in the photograph, 83 East Bay Street. This house was built in 1784 by William Stone, another merchant who had a store on the ground floor with living quarters above. During renovations in 1941, Frost added the doorway with the fanlight.

An interesting feature behind 83 East Bay are brick walls from an earlier warehouse. Framing the rear of the property, these brick walls were incorporated into a garden plan by famed landscape designer Loutrel Briggs. Viewing 83 East Bay from the street, it is hard to imagine the creative and unique garden behind the house. The garden is a surprise and a sanctuary set in the midst of busy East Bay Street. Camellia bushes, crape myrtles, and other southern plants add color and texture around the reflecting pool.

Charleston owes a great deal to Susan Pringle Frost and others like her who acted on their vision and passion to rescue Charleston's historic buildings for future generations. After all, can anyone really imagine Charleston without Rainbow Row?

Next week we will explore structures in different areas in and around the city.