Home Essex County The North Jersey Guide to Central Jersey (Does It Exist?)

The North Jersey Guide to Central Jersey (Does It Exist?)

by Olivia Fisher
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Many New Jerseyans hold true that there are only North and South Jersey, and that Central Jersey is the figment of some imaginations. it is indeed real — but where exactly is it? On August 24th, 2023, Governor Murphy signed Bill S3206 designating Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset as Central Jersey. Thus, there is legal standing for the existence of Central Jersey. Even with legislation, those who affirm Central Jersey’s existence still cannot decide what exactly makes up the region. While the legislation includes Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset as Central Jersey, some believe Union, Ocean, and Monmouth County deserve to be contenders. Read on to learn if the Central Jersey debate is settled or still open for interpretation.

Sommerset County-north-jersey

What Central Jersey Features

S3206 was enacted to redraw the state’s tourism map and incorporate Central Jersey into regional marketing campaigns, including publications and on VisitNJ.org. The region features numerous universities, hospitals, shopping centers, historical sites, and nature spots. Notable communities in the region include Princeton, Edison, Woodbridge Township, Piscataway, Clinton Township, Raritan Township, North Plainfield, Perth Amboy, the Brunswicks, and the state capital of Trenton.

The Ivy at Chatham

NJ map on a mug

Historic spots include Morven House and Garden, BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, Beth Medrash Govoha, the New Jersey State Museum, Menlo Park Museum, and the East Jersey Old Town Village. Other notable locations in the region include Menlo Park Mall, Bridgewater Commons, Cheesequake State Park, Leonard Buck Gardens, Princeton University, The College of New Jersey, and Rutgers New Brunswick.

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Not My Central Jersey

So what about Union, Ocean, and Monmouth Counties? Are they Central? North? Are Morris and Essex Counties truly North Jersey or do some see them as Central? In 2004, Monmouth University conducted a study regarding Central Jersey and how the Garden State’s residents viewed it. The study classified Central Jersey as Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Somerset Counties. The poll found that residents of Union County prefer to think of themselves as Central, residents of Hunterdon County were split between North and Central, and Ocean County residents were divided between Central and South.

Long Branch Beach in Monmouth County

Twenty years later, Monmouth University conducted yet another poll looking at how the public perceived North, Central, and South Jersey. Some residents of the Somerset County towns of Bernardsville and Basking Ridge tended to see themselves as part of North Jersey, granted both communities border Morris County. Apparently, even some residents in the Morris County towns of Roxbury and Rockaway as well as in a swath of Essex County from the Oranges to Maplewood, saw themselves as living in Central Jersey.

portions of Somerset County

The poll found that some people tend to view their position as North, Central, or South, not by county, but by their town instead. The Monmouth University Poll found a sizable difference of opinion between the regional definitions and how residents of Union and Ocean themselves see it. The poll claims Union County as North Jersey, but about half the county’s residents see themselves as living in Central Jersey. Those residents were typically from Clark, Cranford, Garwood, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Union Township, Westfield, and Winfield, which generally comprise the southern portion of the county. Similarly, the Monmouth University Poll claimed Ocean County as South Jersey, but roughly half the residents here, mostly from Jackson, Toms River, Brick Township, Lakewood Townships, Bayhead, Lavallette, Mantoloking, Seaside Heights, and Seaside Park, felt like Central Jerseyians.

 

 

Central Jersey’s Culture

The culture and lifestyle of North and South Jersey are pretty concrete. Both areas draw influence from their major metropolitan areas — New York City for North Jersey and Philadelphia for South Jersey. North Jersey is commonly associated with the ripper, the Italian hot dog, the Sloppy Joe, bagels, pastrami, submarine sandwiches, and Taylor Ham. South Jersey is known for the Jersey Devil, hoagies, cheesesteaks, water ice, scrapple, tomato pie, Irish potato candy, and the decision to refer to a certain breakfast meat as “Pork Roll”. Perhaps Central Jersey’s culture is a combination of the two plus elements unique to the area.

So Really, What is Central Jersey?

In 2023, Governor Murphy signed legislation declaring at minimum that Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset County are considered to be in Central Jersey. The classification according to the bill was put into place to benefit the region’s tourism. Regardless of legislation, people can still feel differently about what Central Jersey is. Some strongly feel that Union, Ocean, and Monmouth County should be in the mix for Central.

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Other regions on VisitNJ.org include Gateway, Shore, Southern Shore, Delaware River, Greater Atlantic City, and Skylands. The designations on the website do not designate a North or South Jersey and instead split up the state into more regions for tourism purposes. So what does this mean for the existence of Central Jersey? Does this mean that maybe one day Union, Ocean, or Monmouth could be classified as Central? Maybe. Maybe not.

map of nj

Before S3206, a 2013 public utilities law defined Central Jersey as a region encompassing the counties of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Somerset. Thirty years before that, a law about highways from 1984 defined Central Jersey as Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Somerset Counties.

Regardless, it is important to remember that while S3206 classified four counties as Central Jersey, some residents might not feel that is enough. Some view the classifications by county, but others may view it by township instead. For example, some residents of Bernardsville and Basking Ridge in Somerset County feel as if they are part of North Jersey and some residents in certain Essex County towns feel as if they live in Central Jersey. Additionally, some view Central Jersey as anything south of Route 78 and Route 287 and north of Route 195, completely ignoring counties or event towns and instead favoring major roads. And of course, there are the people out there who deny the existence of Central Jersey altogether!

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