The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 provided 30,000 acres of land to each state for every member of Congress representing that state. According to the Act, the land was to be sold and the proceeds invested in bonds considered safe, but yielding no less than five percent interest. The interest income was to be used for the "endowment, support and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanical arts...in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial class in the several persuits and professions of life."
A Unionist state legislature laid claim to Virginia's land grant in 1864, but it wasn't until 1866 that an elected General Assembly arranged for sale of the 300,000-acre endowment, which a Cleveland investor bought for $285,000. Long and embittered debate ensued over disposition of the fund. Twenty-four existing institutions in Virginia argued they were best suited to offer the curriculum provided for in the Morrill Act and the issue nagged in the legislature for years. A compromise in 1872 finally split the earnings from the fund, with two-thirds earnmarked to establish the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.
The new school opened in October 1872 with one brick building, which stood near the present intersection of Main Street and College Avenue. Within two years, the college's governing board approved two new academic buildings, two faculty houses, and a house for the president (now Henderson Hall). These brick academic buildings were the first structures in the current Upper Quad. The campus expanded greatly from 1891 - 1907 under the leadership of President John M. McBryde. An administration building, chapel, mess hall, YMCA building, and Agricultural Hall (now known as Price Hall) drew the campus westward and, in the YMCA and Agricultural Hall, introduced the use of native stone in campus buildings.
To reflect the college's work in scientific technology, the General Assembly in 1896 changed the name to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute . The college soon became popularly known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute, VPI, or Virginia Tech. It was formally renamed Virginia Polytechnic Institute with a legislative act in 1944.
Campus expansion was piecemeal from the end of McBryde's administration until after World War I, when an influx of veterans enrolled in classes and Julian A. Burruss began a 26-year period as president. Under Burruss, the Drill Field was given its oval definition and the now-dominant Collegiate Gothic stone architecture appeared around the Drill Field's edge.
Another wave of applications arrived at the University following World War II, so many applications that an office of admissions was established to handle the deluge. VPI was caught unprepared for the large number of students, but a 15-year building program costing more than $20 million sought to meet the demand. Additional dormitories in Upper Quad and Lower Quad doubled the University's housing capacity to nearly 4,000. Gaps in the academic quadrangles surrounding the Drill Field were filled and the trend towards outward expansion began in earnest with Randolph Hall, the Biochemistry and Nutrition Building, Vawter and Barringer dorms, Schultz Dining Hall, and the Cassell Coliseum. The eastern edge of campus was radically changed during this period when, late in 1951, construction of the former Mall entrance was begun . This linear approach to the new War Memorial Chapel was built at the expense of the large grove of trees and amid much controversy.
High-rise development was introduced in 1965 with the groundbreaking of Pritchard, Lee, and O'Shaughnessy dormitories on the campus perimeter. Accompanying the growth that occurred under President T. Marshall Hahn was a change in the institution's name in 1970 to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Construction from 1968-71 of Cowgill, Derrin, Wallace, and Cheatham Halls and Amber Johnston dormitories contributed to the pattern of outward expansion that continued until adoption of this Master Plan a decade later. Beginning in 1983, the philosophy of campus development shifted toward preservation of existing facilities and major open spaces and exploration of more cost-effecient alternatives to new construction through building increments, which are connected to existing structures and take full advantage of infrastructure systems.
The Virginia Tech campus divides functionally along the North/South axis, with the academic structures to the west and the residential, service, and athletic structures to the east. For planning and reference purposes, the campus is further divided into four quadrants around the central Drill Field and nine zones which, while not fuctionally exclusive, are spatially and functionally distinct.