Started in January 1870, the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in October 1871. The dedication ceremony was held on October 10, 1871, when a large crown gathered on a brisk morning among the autumn leaves along the bank of the river to witness the event. As part of the celebrations, Capt. Thomas Cogar drove the first stagecoach across the bridge and declared it officially open.
While the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge aided commerce by allowing more traffic to easily cross the river, it did not bring prosperity to all. The opening of the bride brought the closure of Cogar's Ferry, which had operated from a landing near Brooklyn since 1845. During tot Tollgate Wars, a violent vigilante group knows as the Tollgate Raiders formed to terrorize tollgate keepers. In reaction to their terrorist tactics. the 1896 legislature ordered counties to assume control over all toll roads and bridges, and abolish the tolls. The counties initially refused the forced buyout of the turnpike companies. However, they eventually complied due to an escalation in the violence.
After many years of serving as a toll bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and turnpike wer made free as a a direct result of the Tollgate Wars that were waged in the state to combat high tolls and poor road maintenance throughout the late 1800s. However, although the bridge was now free for travelers to cross, a fine of $5 was assessed against anyone who crossed the bridge riding a horse faster than a walk.
The Brooklyn Bridge was a 250-foot-long iron through truss bridge that carried the Lexington, Harrodsburg and Perrysville Turnpike across the Kentucky River. Before the construction of the Boone Tunnel immediately north of the bridge, travelers would have to pass along a dangerous projection over the cliff edge, and then the road would double back to the bridge.
In 1926-27, the Highway Department improved what is today known as U.S. Highway 68. As part of the improvements, the treacherous stretch of road that once led to the Brooklyn Bridge was bypassed, and a tunnel was created through the cliff immediately to the north of the bridge, allowing direct passage onto the bridge. Area historian Clyde Bunch recalls crossing the Brooklyn Bridge many times as a young child on fishing trips to Herrington Lake. The plank flooring of the bridge rumbled underneath the wheels of the family car. In those days, many boats still ran on the river, and he would always look for them while crossing.
When originally constructed, the Brooklyn Bridge was designed to support the weight of the heaviest of pre-automobile traffic. However, in the 1900, the single-lane structure began to weaken under the ever-increasing strain of automobile traffic. After 82 years of continuous service, the old structure finally failed when it was being crossed by a heavy food-service truck on November 30, 1953. Because of the 40-foot fall into the river, the driver's back was broken in three places. Fearing his truck might catch fire, the driver was able to remove himself from the wreckage. He successfully sued the state for the unsafe bridge and was awarded $50,000 for his injuries. Kentucky governor Lawrence Wetherby stated that "no man was worth $50,000," and having the power at the time, reduced the driver's award to $10,000.