After its founding in 1826, Furman struggled for survival through its first 25 years. The school moved twice, from Edgefield to High Hills and then to Fairfield.
After closing from 1834 to 1837, Furman reopened in Fairfield, just north of Columbia, with two schools, one for literary studies and one for theology. Students combined their studies with farm labor to help pay their way, but the academy of literary studies lasted only until 1849. Latin and agriculture apparently did not mix well for sons of slave owners, who didn't cotton to field labor. The theology department continued, however, and developed a strong, stable faculty.
The South Carolina Baptist Convention came to believe that the school's rural location was not conducive to its survival. After much travel and investigations, James Furman helped persuade the convention to move the school to Greenville. Although Greenville was then a village of around 1,300 people, it showed promise, with its pleasant climate and the expected arrival of the railroad (which came in 1853).
On June 16, 1850, the convention voted to move the school to Greenville, and The Furman University was chartered by the state on December 20, 1850. James Furman recommended the purchase of 25 acres on a scenic hill south of town. The land, which we know today as University Ridge, off Church Street, was purchased from Vardry McBee for $150 an acre.
The Furman University was to consist of a college preparatory school, a college and a theological seminary. Early in 1852 the college department opened in downtown Greenville with 68 students. In 1858, with convention approval, the Furman theology department branched off and became the Southern Baptist Seminary. It remained in Greenville until moving to Louisville, Ky., in 1877.
The move to Greenville proved beneficial in a number of ways. The seminary became a good recruiter, as its graduates sent students to Furman from throughout the South. Parallel courses of study between the college and the seminary strengthened both schools. Some students took courses in both institutions, and the library and other facilities were shared. An enlarged faculty of well-trained university men and theologians enriched the entire community.