The Forty Acres of the University of Texas at Austin have been a home to all those who have lived, worked, studied or visited since classes began in 1883. The Forty Acres that students of recent years have known and loved appeared very different during the early years of the University. The first class of 221 students, composed of both men and women actually took their initial courses in the building that was housing Capitol operations during that time period. Within a year of the opening of the University, students began classes on the original Forty Acres. In a map from 1900, there are only four buildings on the original Forty Acres. To put it in perspective, that original section of land can be defined as the square that falls between 24th Street, Speedway, 21st Street, and Guadalupe. Nowadays, that area of land is home to buildings like the “Six Pack,” The Tower, The Union, Waggener Hall, McCombs, Welch Hall, Hogg Auditorium, and The Flawn Academic Center. This area of campus is also home to the well-loved and frequently visited Turtle Pond. Many of these buildings are some of the oldest on campus, but interestingly enough, some of them were not the first buildings to be standing in that location.
The land that currently houses The Flawn Academic Center was once home to the Women’s Building and Women’s Gymnasium, as shown on this map from 1920. The Women’s Building hosted its first students in 1903, housing only female students and Mrs. Carothers, the Head Matron at the time. The dormitory building itself contained a parlor with a grand piano, a dining room, and kitchen staff specifically for the residents, and a beautiful staircase leading up to the front doors. Adjacent to the dormitory was the Women’s Gymnasium, a building that housed a full-sized track, basketball court, and pool for the residents to use. During its operation, this building was a place that hundreds of women called home during their time at the University. However, this well-loved building faced a fire in 1958, and the land was then occupied by what we now know as the Flawn Academic Center.
One of the most iconic buildings on the University of Texas campus is The Tower. This building appears to be the hallmark of the Forty Acres, rising above every other building in its vicinity. This distinct building is one of the most notable structures that can be seen when flying over Austin or driving around the city. The Tower has been prominently displayed on everything from coffee mugs and stickers to T-shirts and large posters. It is almost as if The Tower has been in existence for as long as people have been in Austin. However, the land on which The Tower sits was originally home to a building referred to as “Old Main.” Old Main was the very first building built on campus, and it was home to a number of classrooms, lecture halls, and a large auditorium. Along with these rooms, this building also included a chapel and a study hall exclusively for women. Unlike many of the buildings that are used today, Old Main housed a plethora of departments across different disciplines. Graduate students, students studying liberal arts, and students studying sciences could all be found attending lectures and completing assignments here. Along with spaces for students, this building housed faculty and administrative offices from when it first became operational in 1884 until its demolition in 1935. Though it was a relatively new building, as the University continued to grow, the decision was made to demolish Old Main in order to build a new building that would more suitably accommodate the needs of the University. The Tower is now home to administrative offices, and one of the most utilized libraries on campus.
Most students at the University of Texas would have a very specific answer if asked the question “Which is your favorite building on campus?” Some might say “The Tower,” others may say “Waggener Hall” (my personal favorite building), or even “Greg Gym.” Each student will answer differently, but the reason behind their answers will often be the same. Most students would say that their favorite building is the one where they have some of the fondest memories. The original Forty Acres have been utilized by thousands of University of Texas at Austin students, and though that area has gone through countless changes, it continues to be seen that any student who spends time studying at UT will find a home full of memories in the buildings on campus.
If you would like to dive deeper on any of these topics, feel free to reference the following links:
Drawing of Old Main – jimnicar.com
Drawing of Woman’s Building in 1915 – jimnicar.com
1933 Index to Buildings – legacy.lib.utexas.edu