Created By: Seeking Abraham Project
Located on the banks of the beautiful Reedy River from 1851 to the 1950s, most of the Furman University campus is today merely a parking lot, County Offices condemned to demolition, and roads names to commemorate the school's history. New construction is about to unfold and, like the Reedy River Park, reveal the secrets of what lies "beneath"--the foundations of Greenville's university.
The area is rich in documented history far before the university. In the 1740s, explorers witnessed Cherokee transactions in the area. In 1760, Richard Pearis was the first colonist to occupy this area, the northern part of the Reedy River. Pearis built a grist mill, saw mill, and Indian trading store along the banks of the river in 1776. This year was an ominous sign for Pearis, because after siding as a Loyalist to the British Crown, he lost all his assets to the new United States government (who would not verify his claim to the land).
It wasn’t until 1817 when a man named Vardy McBee began to build large scale mills in downtown Greenville. This was the start of the many thriving businesses downtown, and this is the condition James C. Furman and the Baptists found it when they decided to move their struggling school, the "Furman Academy & Theological Institute" here, rebranding the institution as a liberal arts college named "Furman University."
Over the years after 1851, the relationship grew, and most Greenville residents had some connection to the University. Still, we have to remember that when the school was founded, being across the river from the main town gave quite a feeling of separation. Only in 1873 was the first significant bridge (the Gower Bridge) created across the river. In 1889 a new steel bridge was built to replace the Gower Bridge and symbolized the core of downtown. Tug-of-war games between freshmen and sophomores at Furman, played across the Reedy River over the decades of the early twentieth century, make iconic the link between Furman and their home on the Reedy River.
It wasn’t until the 1930s when the gardening societies and botanists decided to revitalize the river that Greenville residents began to see the beauty of the college, and to think of Furman University along this bank as a public visiting place for all (much as it is on its gorgeous campus today). But when Furman moved away, and shopping malls and big highways moved in, the area again was forgotten as a resource. In fact, roads even covered the Falls from view, as you may already know.
Seventy years later, in 2000, a $7.5 million project to rebuild the West End gave another round of hope to the area. A “Free the Falls” campaign was created in 2001. The first item on the list was to remove the bridge that covered the river's falls. Although highly controversial among natives (many who had grown up with the river as an stinking eyesore and high crime area), the Greenville mayor Knox White and others began to rally around the idea of a new park. The May 2002 Reedy River Master Plan, a collaboration between Clemson University, the City of Greenville, and Greenville County, and drawn up by Andrea Mains, made the final call to the city: the road would come down and the falls made visible in a park. With some negotiation, it happened.
The rest of this tour will make a nice hike--but you should be warned that it will not be as beautiful as the park. The grounds of the school were leveled and paved over. Hopefully, forthcoming plans for the area will make it just as beautiful as the park it sits over.
Enjoy your historical journey!
Sawyer, Richard D. 10,000 Years of Greenville County, South Carolina History: The Reedy River Falls Historic Park. Richard D. Sawyer, 1997.
John Boyanoski and Knox White. Reimagining Greenville: Building the Best Downtown in America. History Press, 2017.
King, Charles. Furman Hornet, Volume 40, Issue 28, Microfilm LD1871.F76H6, 1954. Furman University Special Collections.
“Discover: Greenville History Resources.” Furman University LibGuides,