WATCH: How NJ’s ‘border wars’ started (Part 5 of 5)
Only in New Jersey can you find residents claiming their own section of the state. In Part 5, ending our week-long series, “New Jersey: A Divided State,” we ask the experts why these “border wars” exist in the first place.
As a resident of Gloucester County, with family in Union County, Chazz Bjanes is someone who’s had a strong taste of both the northern and southern portions of the state.
From pizza quality to accents, Bjanes was able to rip through a dozen nuances that make one region so different from the other, but he wasn’t proud of the fact that we can’t all just get along.
“It’s unfortunate, but I really feel like New Jersey is sort of a suburban state to two major cities,” Bjanes said, referring to New York City and Philadelphia.
New Jersey’s “divide” has been at play since the state’s inception 350 years ago, according to Michael Aaron Rockland, the author of four books on the Garden State. Sir George Carteret ran the “east” side of New Jersey, and Lord John Berkley was in charge of the “west.”
“In effect, when we think of north and south Jersey, it isn’t entirely different from east and west Jersey because that was northeast and southwest,” Rockland said, noting the diagonal split went from eastern Ocean County to the NJ/PA border near Dingmans Ferry.
According to the state government website, the contributions and culture of north and south New Jersey were practically opposites during the early 1800s. While cities such as Elizabeth, Newark and Paterson became manufacturing hubs, south Jersey “remained rural for the most part, growing the crops to feed the urban areas nearby.”
Rutgers University professor Steven Miller, a close follower of the former 201-609 area code divide, suggested the state has been suffering from an identity problem for decades.
“From day one, we have been two states, with two focuses, with two ideas,” Miller said. “We really shouldn’t be considered a conduit between New York and Philadelphia; we should be considered the heartbeat.”
Miller said the north/south debate is undermining residents’ appreciation for what the state has to offer.
“From High Point to the Jersey shore to Cape May, you have things that, not only in our lifetimes, but in historical lifetimes, have been wanted by others from throughout the country,” he said. “We would be much better off if instead of looking at ourselves as north Jersey and south Jersey, we combined, worked together and moved forward as one state.”