New Jersey Geography: A Story of Colonies, Pork Rolls, and Highways

New Jersey is the fourth smallest state in the United States. The little transient state is only larger than Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, all of which were also part of the original 13 Colonies. Despite its small size, New Jersey is starkly varied and has a large historical and cultural legacy. This post is focusing on geographical history for a couple reasons.

First, when I visit or talk about an area in the state, I will be referring to it as being in North or South Jersey. Not only to provide its location but also for cultural context. Second, and probably more interestingly, there is an eternal argument existing within the state that needs to be addressed.

Like the pork roll debate, or rather the Taylor Ham debate, there is constant controversy on where the line between North and South Jersey lies. Even more of a debate is where the elusive “Central Jersey” is located. attempted to solve this predicament by letting it’s readers vote on an online poll. The end was result was this interactive map. According to the data, Central Jersey includes the likes of Edison, the Brunswicks, Marlboro, and Trenton.

Yet despite their efforts, not all agree. A classmate of mine told me yesterday that Trenton is in North Jersey. After all, it is a New Jersey tradition to argue. In fact, the argument was initially between West Jersey and East Jersey.

One of Sweden’s colonial attempts in the New World was in 1638 with New Sweden. The colony was based around the Delaware River in the west, including Philadelphia. On the east, in 1614, the Dutch settled the Hudson River and its surrounding territory. This colony was known as New Netherlands, which included New York City (originally known as New Amsterdam). Both colonies would eventually be controlled by Great Britain and thus followed the geographic struggle from 1674 to 1702.


West and East Jersey circa 1706. Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division


Back to present day, New Jersey is unified, yet like all states, it is divided into counties. In New Jersey, there are 21. Since counties can be complicated to explain, and because they are hard to remember, I will be posting this link for reference when I do mention them on my blog.

Most people visit New Jersey in order to continue their trip up or down the east coast. New Jersey has a number of major highways. Interstate 80 runs from Teaneck, NJ to San Francisco, CA. The New Jersey Turnpike takes travelers from New York to Philadelphia and Delaware (part of the greater I95 spanning from New Brunswick, Canada southward to Miami, FL). Finally, the Garden State Parkway runs from New York State to Cape May, NJ. Fun fact; this editor’s favorite NJ highway is the Parkway.

Looking at the map below, the density of roads in the North compared to the South shows a visual display of how the population is distributed around the state. Since North Jersey is closer to New York City, it became a key industrial area for the region due to its ports and proximity. For a visitor, driving up the NJ Turnpike or Parkway visually explains this as the farther north you go the more factories, ports, and building you see.


An example road map of New Jersey. The Garden State Parkway is the red line most easily seen connecting Cape May, Wildwood, and Ocean City together. This map also showcases the Appalachian Mountain range in the northwest. Photo Credit: National Atlas of the United States


Outside of political boundaries, both the North and South have their own special characteristics which made their histories slightly differ. The Appalachian mountains intersect into Northwestern New Jersey. The rest of the North is generally more elevated than the rest of the state, which is the flat Atlantic coastal plain. This flat land made most of the central and southern part of the state better suited for farming.

However, there are exceptions to these geographical characteristics around the state. A few examples include the dense forests of the Northwest and the cities of Camden and Atlantic City in the South. Additionally, the east coast’s Long Beach Island has formed its own entity for being a tourist hub resort area.

Finally, there is the home of the Jersey Devil, the Pine Barrens, which sit east of Hammonton, but north of Atlantic City. This area is a protected wildlife refuge which is mostly undisturbed, having soil that is difficult for farming.

Thus, that is our quick New Jersey geography rundown. We will spend time in many of these regions throughout the state. For next time, we will start by taking a look at an important location in Central Jersey (or North depending on your preference), the state capital of Trenton. What makes Trenton so special that it became the capital?


Until next time, may we meet again!


2 thoughts on “New Jersey Geography: A Story of Colonies, Pork Rolls, and Highways

  1. I am loving your choices for content so far! The info is relevant and can relate to people from NJ (pork roll vs taylor ham, etc.). My only advice is to make some shorter posts to balance out the amount of content for the reader who may be looking just to skim vs reading a lot sometimes. Looking forward to your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

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