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What’s the Story Behind the Forty Acres?

The Forty Acres is the nickname for the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. It is also a big part of campus culture.

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UT Austin campus from Wooldridge Hill, 1902

What’s all this about 40 acres? The Forty Acres is the nickname for the campus of The University of Texas at Austin because that was the size of the original tract set aside by the state. 

Those 40 acres formed a square with “College Hill” at its center. Today, that square is defined by 21st Street, Guadalupe Street, 24th Street and Speedway, and The Tower sits at the top of College Hill. A 40-acre square is a quarter of a mile along each side, so if you walk the perimeter of the original campus, you will have walked a mile.

 

Fun fact: The acre came into use during the Middle Ages and was defined as the amount of land that could be ploughed in one day by one man and an ox. Unless you grew up on a preindustrial farm, that won’t mean much to you. An acre is about 75 percent of a football field or the combined size of 16 tennis courts.

The nickname is a big part of campus culture. Forty Acres Fest is a campus-wide festival each spring featuring more than 100 student organizations, entertainment, food, music and games. UT’s most prestigious scholarships, the Forty Acres Scholarships, are jointly sponsored by the university’s alumni association, the Texas Exes, and our various schools and colleges. For many decades, the shuttle bus that circled the original Forty Acres plus what is now known as “central campus” was “the 40.” When the city’s bus service absorbed the UT shuttle bus system, the route became “the 640,” which you can catch today.

 

Now, UT’s main campus comprises 431 acres, with a perimeter of more than 4 miles, stretching from 15th to 30th streets and from office space in the West Campus neighborhood to Manor Road east of Interstate 35.

But that’s just the main campus. The university’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus in North Austin is actually bigger than the main campus, at 475 acres. UT’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Southwest Austin adds another 284 acres. And the university’s Brackenridge Tract, including field laboratories, stretches for 350 acres along Lake Austin.

 

But that’s just in Austin. UT’s McDonald Observatory in West Texas? That’s another 400 acres. Our Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas? There’s another 72 acres, with a 5-acre boat basin, and UTMSI manages the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, which totals 186,189 acres.

Those “Forty Acres” are now in the thousands. Looks like you’ve got some exploring to do.