“Babylon had her hanging gardens, Egypt her pyramid, Athens her Acropolis, Rome her Athenaeum; so Brooklyn has her bridge,” read a sign in a Brooklyn shop window on the day of the Brooklyn Bridge’s opening to the public on May 24, 1883, 133 years ago today, according to Alan Trachtenberg’s Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol.
Now, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of Instagram’s most popular locations, a must-see stop for tourists, and arguably the most pedestrian-accessible bridge in New York. But 133 years ago, the Bridge was far more than a pretty roadway: It symbolized the uniting of the then-separate cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The first bridge to span the East River, and originally called the East River Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to build, with 27 people dying in the process. Over its history, it has watched Brooklyn enter two centuries, has carried uncountable cars and individuals from borough to borough (and, for a time, trolley cars as well), and has served as a stage for myriad performances and political protests and demonstrations.
As well, the bridge’s opening sparked a building boom in more far-flung areas of Brooklyn such as Park Slope, Bed Stuy, Ocean Hill and other parts of Central Brooklyn.
Indeed, without the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, as well as the surrounding outer boroughs, as we know them today would not exist.
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