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The history of Catfish Row in Charleston, SC

Catfish Row

Image via @larry_walkins_photography

This conversation was written by Madi Blanford, CHStoday’s digital media intern.

In Charleston’s Historic District, an old three-story building stretches from 89-91 Church St. – its gray walls accented with cherry red window frames and a hanging sign titled “Catfish Row.” A century ago, however, this plot of land was not the site of cheery restaurants + shops catering to throngs of Lowcountry tourists; it was a home to former slaves. Back then, it was known as Cabbage Rowa fitting name, since its residents would sell cabbage + other produce directly from the windowsills. 🥬

Just down the street lived author Edwin DuBose Heyward, a struggling artist working on his first (and most successful) novel, “Porgy.” Located at 76 Church St., Heyward was able to poke his head through his front door and witness the daily goings-on of his busy neighbors on Cabbage Row. Thus sparked the inspiration for his book. 📖

While writing “Porgy,” Heyward drew from many real-life places + events, though he changed a few key details. For example, the titular character Porgy was based off of an actual man named Sammy Smalls, infamously known around Charleston for his many run-ins with the law and most notably, riding through town in a goat cart. Heyward also took artistic liberties with Cabbage Row, changing its name to Catfish Row and moving it to a waterfront location rather than its landlocked one on Church St. 🐐

After Heyward’s novel gained popularityand later became both a successful (and for some, controversial) play + opera – many Charlestonians began using the terms Cabbage Row and Catfish Row interchangeably. Either way, it’s important to recognize its role in Charleston history. The next time you find yourself on Church St., consider taking a stroll down Cabbage (or Catfish) Row in commemoration of the men + women who once lived there.