Heights in the heartland: Iowa town’s streets share names identical to those in Brooklyn Heights

Heights in the heartland: Iowa town’s streets share names identical to those in Brooklyn Heights

Kings County’s oldest enclave has a sister in the Corn Belt!

A small Iowa town shares many of its street names with Brooklyn Heights, puzzling locals who were shocked to discover there’s a grassier version of their brownstone-lined nabe on the prairie.

“It’s astounding, it’s more than just a coincidence,” said Brooklyn Heights resident Michael Towers, whose college roommate told him of the connection after uncovering it while researching the ancestry of his father, who was born in the Midwestern community.

Dunlap, Iowa — which is northwest of Des Moines — is charted with Clinton, Montague, Jerolemon, Court, Remsen and Pierrepont streets, six stretches also found in tony Brooklyn Heights.

Hawkeye State officials platted the burg in 1867 and incorporated it in 1871, well after Brooklyn Heights evolved into a booming nabe with hundreds of houses. The reason for the like-named streets remains a mystery, but a borough history buff guessed it probably has to do with a Kings Countian settling out west.

Grass is greener: Court Street in Dunlap, Iowa features lush greenery and plenty of open space.
Alicia Block

“My first reaction was there’s some person from Brooklyn who moved there, or was connected to a business there,” said Julie Golia, a historian for the Brooklyn Historical Society. “It wouldn’t have been crazy for some person who was possibly involved in the railroad business to move out there and have a big influence on the nature of the town.”

A glance at Dunlap’s history books revealed the town’s first pioneers migrated from Connecticut. A couple of its notable residents hailed from New York, too, but no evidence connects the borough of Kings to Iowa.

Golia, however, is sure that the town’s settlers took the names from Brooklyn because the monikers are very specific to its past.

“The thing that’s unusual is a lot of the notable names in Brooklyn Heights are Dutch names. There’s a really rich Dutch history in Brooklyn, and in New York, so it’s enormously unlikely they were thinking about Remsen in 1867 in Dunlap, Iowa,” she said.

In fact, Joralemon Street in the Heights was spelled “Jerolemon Street” around the time heartland town was born, according to Brooklyn Eagle archives.

Wide open spaces: A peek at Dunlap’s Remsen Street, where houses have yards.
Alicia Block

The historian also floated the theory that Dunlap’s founders admired Henry Ward Beecher, a popular abolitionist and preacher at Brooklyn Heights’ Plymouth Church, and named their roads after streets in the clergyman’s neighborhood to honor him. Doing so would not be unheard of, according to Golia, especially because Beecher was known to seek recognition.

“He was a nationally known figure and a celebrity at the time,” she said. “He was also very good at self promotion.”

Dunlap’s head bureaucrat didn’t know why some of its roads share their names with those in the Heights either — although Iowans pronounce Montague Street “Mon-tag,” he said — but was also amazed by the discovery.

“I think it’s neat,” said Mayor Jason Knickman, who also works as a deputy for the county sheriff. “Obviously there’s got to be some sort of connection.”

Aside from the like-named streets, Knickman’s municipality boasts two bars, two mini-marts, a dam, a pond for fishing, a public swimming pool and youth sports complex, several churches, a livestock supply store, and a swanky steakhouse near the Boyer River where a man who many claimed was the world’s oldest bartender worked until he retired at 103 — all of which make it a wonderful place to live, he said.

Tony: Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights is lined with expensive brownstones.
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

“We’re just really fortunate to have the town we have,” he said. “It’s a pretty good community we live in.”

Dunlap is home to just more than 1,000 people, while more than 10,000 reside in Brooklyn Heights, according to 2010 census data. And it may have fewer inclines and less expensive real estate than its sister suburb, but one Heights resident said he’s not in a rush to trade city for country because the town only has one grocery store and it isn’t even within strolling distance.

“It’s flatter and has incredibly cheap house prices, I’m sure. I suspect the availability of sweet corn is much easier,” said longtime local Andrew Porter. “I much prefer Brooklyn Heights. I can walk to Trader Joe’s.”

The Iowa town isn’t the only municipality to take naming inspiration from Kings County. In 1894, officials in the village of Lynbrook, in nearby Nassau County, New York, chose its name by swapping the syllables in Brooklyn, to honor residents from the borough of Kings who moved to the burb around the turn of the century.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Concrete jungle: Unlike in Iowa, there’s no grass to be found on Court Street in the Heights.
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf