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Central NJ Revisited: The Case for Monmouth and More

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons and Google Earth

So I've spent decades arguing that Central New Jersey exists, only to find out that---according to the government of our state---the county I spent most of my life in isn't even in Central Jersey? I think not. Allow me to make the case.

Before moving to Marlton and then Stafford (where I now live), I spent some of the most formative years of my life in Millstone and Upper Freehold, which are part of the western patch of farmland in Monmouth County. That area has the privilege of being in the middle of everything and in the middle of nowhere. Whatever way you look at it though, it's in the middle.

Monmouth County

Middletown, Governor Phil Murphy's hometown, is also in Monmouth County, and he's the one pushing for the promulgation of the new region. You can't get more Central Jersey than Middletown! Monmouth County even starts with "M", which happens to be smack dab in the middle of the alphabet, just like Middlesex and Mercer, which are also very much Central Jersey. It makes so much sense it's almost poetic. Monmouth has to be in Central Jersey. Monmouth County is also home to the CentraState Medicenter in Freehold, the town which also happens to be the hometown of Bruce Springsteen, who played at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Are you going to tell me all of these places are in South Jersey? C'mon man. Keansburg is in South Jersey? Sandy Hook? Uh uh, no way.

I get it, Monmouth County has a lot of farmland, and when people think farmland in New Jersey, they think South Jersey: the large swaths of fields with farmer markets, Cowtown, the Pine Barrens and cows crossing the road. But Hunterdon County also has a great deal of farmland. Let's not think of Central Jersey as entirely suburban. North Jersey isn't entirely urban, and South Jersey isn't entirely rural. Let's get rid of these stereotypes.

Is it the lack of Revolutionary War history that disqualifies Monmouth County from the club? Well, what about Monmouth Battlefield Park? Is it the lack of prestigious colleges? What about Monmouth University? Is it because it has a great deal of shoreline, making it more Jersey Shore? Well, then you're putting the western farmland in Monmouth in the Jersey Shore region, and that just doesn't make sense. Let's just make things easy: Monmouth County is in Central Jersey.

Ocean and Burlington

Ocean and Burlington Counties are even up for debate, but I'm willing to concede that they are in South Jersey, which would mean I've lived in South Jersey for seven years. That realization is going to cause some deep reflection for me. I have to admit---I have been feeling more and more like a Southerner in recent years---in both the New Jersey and the national sense. I blame country music and my frequent road trips to Texas, through the South, to see family for that. If you see the cultural significance of the Central Jersey designation, then you can see why this is such a significant debate. Parts of South Jersey are below the Mason-Dixon line. After traveling through the South quite a bit, it's clear to me at least that many parts of South Jersey feel like the South.

We have to draw a southern border for Central Jersey. I say, when you start seeing mostly pine trees, you're in South Jersey. But here's the most definitive factor---and this is something that really made me feel like I was in not just a different region but a different state when I first saw it: the travel centers in Bordentown at the interchanges of Rt. 130, 295 and the NJ Turnpike. I don't know anywhere else in New Jersey where you'll find a Love's and a Petro, but they are all over the South right off the highways. That representation of long highway culture, where truckers and RVs rule the road, is definitely not a Central Jersey thing. When you see a travel center off a highway---as opposed to a "rest area"---you're seeing something that is pretty much foreign to New Jersey. And it's fitting for such a thing to be in South Jersey, because it always seemed like a different state to me---just like the South sometimes feels like a different country.

But I lived in Monmouth County for about 15 years, and---I have to admit---hearing our governor say that it's not in the officially newly-formed Central Jersey club was kind of a letdown. Wikipedia includes Monmouth and even Ocean and Union Counties in Central Jersey. I wouldn't go so far as to include Union. That's just ignorant. That's definitely North Jersey. Whoever made that designation clearly doesn't know or understand New Jersey. Why can't we come to an agreement on this? So, Governor Murphy and NBC New York (New York!), it's important to mention that this matter is not settled. It just goes to show that our governor and our neighbor to the north still don't understand us.

For the best breakdown of NJ's three regions, I recommend this article from 2015 on Here are the North, Central and South Jersey borders as determined by you (INTERACTIVE). The article did a poll and broke the regions up by municipality instead of by county. That may be the only way to clearly distinguish each region. A majority of voters in some municipalities in northwest Burlington and northeast Ocean Counties voted that they're in Central Jersey. In any event, I think this article and map is more reliable than the "official" region designated by the government.

The Importance of Regions

A region should have a balance between urban, suburban, and rural. Rural includes agriculture and wilderness, and wilderness does not have to be publicly owned! For these reasons and more, I don't think the Jersey Shore should be considered a region: It's only urban and suburban with some preserved wilderness, but it has no agricultural area and therefore it's not self-sustainable. All of that is a discussion for another time.

My point is that it is important to designate regions. This is how we live. When people start thinking more about where they live, they start to make more conscious decisions about that region, that community. It starts with taking care of our home---meaning the roof over our head---but the community we live in is intrinsically related to our house, apartment, condo, or whatever else we live in. Every region should have a central hub; a place that is the core of cultural, economic, and political activity. County seats used to be that hub, and in many areas that is still the case, but in New Jersey there is so much urban sprawl that it's hard to determine the central hub of our regions. Some may argue we don't even have a central hub, and that our whole state just feeds off the activity from Philadelphia and New York City. Sadly, there is some truth to that. We've lived in the shadows of those two cities for too long. New Jerseyans need to form their own distinct culture, and it starts by definitively defining our regions.

Kilby is a freelance writer and real estate agent. Visit his real estate page at

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