I was first introduced to the phenomenon of Central Jersey back in my freshman year of college when my roommate corrected someone trying to describe the location of a certain Ivy-league institution. “There’s no such thing as Central Jersey! Don’t even try to tell me that there is!” she proclaimed. As a foreigner to New Jersey (I was born and raised on Long Island), I was both amused and shocked by her statement. Why is Central Jersey such a fabled place? Does it physically not exist on a map? And more importantly, why does this matter? As time went on, I found this conversation garnered even more enthusiasm and division among other Garden State residents. Consequently, my desire to learn the truth has only grown. Does Central Jersey exist?
Turns out, this controversial topic has been a source of debate for hundreds of years. Back in Colonial times, New Jersey existed as two distinct halves. East Jersey aligned with the Dutch-occupied New York, and West Jersey, which bordered Pennsylvania, shared a similar Quaker background. Despite their unification as a single colony in 1702, people were quick to dispute the border and identified strictly with their supposed part. Now in the 21st century, this invisible line has shifted from North to South and is present in every discussion of Taylor Ham vs. Pork Roll, Sub vs. Hoagie, and Yankees vs Phillies. Ah, progress.
I want to settle the debate once and for all (or at least make up my own mind) about the elusive region. Is there such a thing as a Central Jersey? Or is it merely a figment of some deluded inhabitants’ imaginations? I reached out to 10 New Jersey natives throughout the state to hear what they had to say.
Does Central Jersey exist? If so, where is it?
Those who live within the supposed “Central” area responded with a resounding yes. Jonny, a Freehold resident, affirmed its geographical existence, “Yes, we are real! Central Jersey isn’t the tooth fairy, you can look it up on a map and see the dang thing.” He went on to explain: “[It’s] probably Middlesex to Ocean County. Not a myth! Cut the state in thirds, I dare you.”
Marlboro-based Sonia followed suit, “If you say it doesn’t exist, you’re incorrect. From a purely geographical standpoint, it absolutely does. I live there!”
Colleen of West Milford contributed a contrasting take. “New Jersey is split into North and South—North being the suburbs surrounding New York and the South being below Newark, where the Shore starts. In my opinion, there is no in-between.” Yannis, from Wayne, similarly reasoned, “Personally, I don’t believe in a Central Jersey. Even ‘central’ divides further into a north and south.”
Surprisingly, there were a decent amount of Northerners on team Central. Jamie from Sparta exclaimed, “As someone who lives in North Jersey, I think that Central Jersey exists. I attended college in New Brunswick and would consider that to be Central!” She continued, “I know some may argue that The Weather Channel doesn’t show a Central Jersey, but I don’t think that dictates whether or not there is one.”
Montville-native Sabrina’s view differed slightly; “I consider Trenton to be the Central Jersey. I see it as North and South with a sliver in the middle that includes Trenton and Princeton.”
Out of the ten people I spoke with, seven voted in favor of a legitimate geographical Central Jersey. But, the answer to our question lies deeper: Is there a cultural difference that accompanies the presence of this location? I returned to the group for further inquiry.
What sets the area apart? What does it mean to be a Central Jerseyan?
While some asserted that the region is a purely geographical concept, five people vehemently supported the uniqueness of the area. Ava, residing in the centrally located Princeton, explained her stance. “South Jersey has heavy Philly influences, while the North has heavy New York influences. Central Jersey has the influences of both without the negative aspects that come with living in each. It’s the best of both worlds.” This notion was reaffirmed by the aforementioned Jonny, who stated, “living in Central Jersey means that I’m not too far from anywhere–I could go to either a big city or the Shore or farmland. It’s versatile!” Hailey, from Mountainside, provided some concrete evidence in support. “Wawas are growing, we have our own Wikipedia page, and there are even scholarships specific to the area.”
As expected, my quasi-experiment proved a close race between the two sides, additionally muddled by conditional answers. From a technical standpoint, multiple people from all over the state were found to believe in a culturally-sound Central Jersey. Whether this proves the idea’s validity or constructed-ness, I am unsure. However, a common idea seemed to emerge from all the confusion and provide some clarity.
It appears that in all those who voted in favor, there is a desire to be recognized as an entity that exists outside of the associations of its two bordering areas. Instead of being known in relation to what they are not, they long to be noted for all they have to offer on their own. As a supremely undervalued state, this is a loving mentality that all of New Jersey could benefit from. With that in mind, you can probably tell what answer I’m leading towards.
In your opinion, does Central Jersey exist? Let us know in the comments below!
Main image via Steve Richey