Historical Marker #2117 in Prestonsburg commemorates the historic toll bridge fondly known as the "Old Red Bridge."
In the early 1800s, Prestonsburg was a small but growing community. In 1810, only six families resided in town. The town quickly changed when the area became a center for trade in the east-central part of Kentucky. Solomon DeRosset was one of the first entrepreneurs in the region. His fur business used the Big Sandy River to ship his products to markets on the east coast.
Prestonsburg slowly evolved into a coal mining town during the nineteenth century. Steamboat travel on the nearby Big Sandy River brought increased trade and travel. However, moving coal via the river was difficult. Eventually, coal was transported by way of the more efficient Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, which came to Prestonsburg in 1904.
One obstacle that needed to be overcome with the railroad was the fact that the rail station was on the opposite side of Levisa Fork—a tributary of the Big Sandy River—from the main part of town. To solve this problem bids were placed for the construction of a bridge that would provide pedestrians and vehicles with easy access to the railroad depot.
The May 10, 1907, edition of the "Big Sandy News" explained that the Penn Bridge Company had been awarded the contract for the bridge's construction. The 430-foot-long bridge was expected to cost $22,000. Partly constructed, the bridge was damaged due to flooding in the fall of 1907; however, the span was finally opened on January 6, 1908.
At its opening all those wishing to cross the bridge to access the train depot had to pay a fee of $.03, and vehicles were charged $.25. The toll bridge was operated by John Hunley, with Andy Stephens serving as collector. It appears that the required toll was lifted sometime between 1914 and 1919. Although the bridge was still in use in the early 1930s it had fallen into disrepair. In 1934, the Old Red Bridge was closed to traffic. By 1940, the bridge had totally been dismantled.