The Pink House on Chalmers Street

There are so many reasons to love the Pink House at 17 Chalmers Street in the lovely French Quarter district of Charleston, SC. It’s by far one of my favorite things to see while I’m conducting my Best of Historic Charleston tour. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

* Cute color.
*  Darling facade.
*  Fairy-like gambrel roof.
*  Insane curb appeal thanks to the ballast stones that pave the way to its charm.
*Minute size reminds me of a doll house I once owned as a child.
*Mysterious age. Nobody quite really knows exactly how old it is!
* Colorful history.
* Noisy ghosts. (Or so I’ve been told!)
** And, the small courtyard in back that needs tending so badly that I wish I could afford to buy it, take ownership, and create a garden oasis out there to match its inner beauty. (Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?)
This precious gem-of-a-house is thought to have been originally built somewhere between 1694 and 1712, making it one of the oldest buildings in Charleston. It’s also the second oldest residence in town, just behind the Colonel William Rhett House at 54 Hasell Street.
Back in its early days, the Pink House was constructed out of a Bermuda stone with a beautiful pink hue. The first owner was a man named John Breton who ran a tavern there. The tile gambrel roof (probably my favorite feature), dates back to the 18th century. The house next operated as a tavern in the 1750s by Thomas Coker. It is also said to have once been a brothel. (Oh, if these walls could talk!) James Gordon was the owner of the house by the 1780s. And, one of the most prominent Charleston artists I speak about on my Amazing Ladies of Charleston walking tour, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, once used the house as her studio in the early 20th century during the so-called Charleston Renaissance. In the 1930s the house then underwent a restoration project by Mr. and Mrs. Victor Morawetz. The house has been a law office, and most recently, an art gallery. At present, the house is empty with Zillow reporting that it sold for $620,000 in November 2017. Oh, how I wish I had the money to buy this house! I would love to live there. I think it would be the perfect location for Eclectic Tours of Charleston’s office! (Maybe someday.)
But, what about the cobblestone street where it sits?
Chalmers Street is definitely the most well known and absolutely the most photographed of Charleston’s many cobblestone streets. During the busy wedding season, I often spy several wedding parties posing for pictures much to the delight of my tour guests who then click off a series of unexpected photos. The French Quarter really does offer a spectacular background for exceptional photographs for professional and amateur photographers alike. The light, the color of the homes, the stones. It just works!
Charleston used to be paved with several of these stone streets back in the 17th and 18th centuries as ballast in sailing ships from England, and later the northeast, would have been thrown overboard into the harbors and then used to pave streets. So, the remaining stones used to “weigh down” the empty ships that unloaded their cargoes and then tossed aside now bedeck our lovely city. And, it was said that if a very pregnant mother wanted to help “speed up” her labor, all she needed to do was hop in a horse-drawn carriage and the rugged bumpiness of the wheel on those ballast stones would — well, you get the picture. Fans of the Bravo hit show “Southern Charm” may remember a few seasons back when Cameran (heavily pregnant), asks her dear friend Shep to drive her down “Labor Lane.” And, they do. And, it’s pretty dang cute.

Named after Dr. Lionel Chalmers (1715-1777) whose home and apothecary were located at the northwest corner of Chalmers and State street, he was a man of science and invention. Very much like his colleague, Benjamin Franklin, Chalmers was one of the first in America to document weather forecasts for the city.
No matter when you visit Charleston, a stroll past the Pink House on Chalmers Street is a must-see. And, if you want to get an even closer peek at the backyard, (you know, the one where I’m going to turn it into a garden paradise), visit the Gaye Sanders Fisher Art Gallery at 124 Church Street and quietly look over the back gate in her garden. Oh, and then be sure to get a glimpse at her exquisite watercolors! In the photo directly below, you can see the chimney of the Pink House in the upper lefthand corner.

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