Old Furman Campus

The History the College at Greenville's Core

Old Furman Campus

Created By: Seeking Abraham Project

Tour Information

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 you, 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 completely. 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!

Sources Used:

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.

Furman University Archives RG45005B - Student Life - Tug-of-War

King, Charles Furman Hornet, Volume 40, Issue 28, Microfilm LD1871.F76H6, 1954. Furman University Special Collections.

Discover: Greenville History Resources.” Furman University LibGuides,


Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

1
The Old Arboretum of Furman University

Gardening culture spread across Europe, up through Charleston and into Greenville in the 1920s. Here in Reedy Falls Park, you can still see its effects as it made its way to Greenville and transformed this area from a mill area with erodin... Read more
2
The Bell Tower and Old Main

Can you believe the right side of the entrance doors to these County offices was once the exact site of the iconic Furman Bell Tower? “Old Main” was first put to use in 1854 by the students and faculty of Furman University. It was desig... Read more
3
Judson Alumni Hall

[This text is provided by Furman Library] The Furman Course Catalog of 1899-1900 describes the new Alumni Hall that had just been erected on the downtown campus at a cost of twenty thousand dollars.  "The building is modern in constructio... Read more
4
Manly Field

Walking inside this huge set of offices, formerly a failed shopping mall, you've just walked most of the length of Furman's old campus! Although they owned acres and acres of forest in all directions, the central academic buildings were few... Read more
5
(A View of) Sirrine Stadium

Sirrine Stadium is one of the last standing symbols of Furman University’s downtown campus. (Feel free to skip this addition if you'd rather now cross over busy Church Street, although good restaurants sit in between). Sirrine Stadium was... Read more
6
Old College

A little temporary cabin was built in 1851 to serve as the university, while Old Main was under construction. It is called the "Old College," and was moved to the new campus in 1958, as the only intact structure from this historic campus t... Read more
7
The Dorms: Geer, Fletcher, and Griffith

You are standing on the site of Geer Hall. To your left diagonally through the parking lot toward the Greenville Drive baseball stadium would have been Fletcher Hall and Griffith Hall. These were the row of dorms that faced the heart of cam... Read more
8
Carnegie Library & Doughboy

Just feet away from Old Main, the second stop on this tour, you are now at the site of the campus library. Despite Furman University being first opened in 1826, the University did not have a fully functioning library until 1907, when Carneg... Read more
9
President's House

The last stop on Furman’s old campus is the land of the original president’s house. Built in 1852, even before the main academic building was finished, this home would have signaled the prestige and stature of this new university. Th... Read more

 

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