Newton is a small town in the northwest corner of New Jersey, where preserved forests, protected open space and state-backed farm land has curtailed suburbanization to maintain the foundation of what could be a thriving community in an urban age. It has a dense Main Street corridor and the anchor institutions of a 250-year-old town, as a gateway to this beautiful rural region. It also happens to be where I grew up.
Elsewhere in Sussex County, there are lake houses and golf courses that attract vacationers and tourists (and reporters) from the New York City market — that’s where my parents and other families came from. Though I believe there are unique assets, I also think this story is one that will relate to communities throughout the country and certainly elsewhere in the U.S. Northeast.
Tonight, I finally made it out to a rodeo. Though I had watched for years portions of events during the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show in Northwest Jersey where I grew up, I had never attended one in full.
With friends, I was excited to get the chance to watch a handful of different contests at the Cowtown Rodeo, the country’s oldest weekly rodeo show, as put on in Cowtown in Salem County, New Jersey.
Below, see video of some past barrel racing, one of the contests I saw in the 4,000-seat arena.
Today I am enjoying the Sussex County Farm & Horse Show, so I thought it was time to write down a conversation I have had too often since leaving the nest four years ago.
I grew up in northwest New Jersey. Of course, when I tell people this – anyone outside of this rural swath of the Garden State, even others from the state – they think it’s a curiously specific geographical distinction.
There is North Jersey and there is South Jersey and, when pushed, there is Central Jersey. Here’s the breakdown, North Jersey is urban backfill from New York City, exurbs, grime and business sprawl. South Jersey is full of Phillies fans, Jersey tomatoes, big, greasy hair and the Shore. Central Jersey is full of elite suburbs around Princeton and the buffer between its two geography neighbors.
But my native Sussex County, and Warren County beneath it, are decidedly dissimilar from North Jersey nomenclature. Despite growing up less than 60 miles from Manhattan and 90 miles from Philadelphia, my childhood could easily be classified as small town, in the Garden State’s prime rural hinterland that you didn’t know existed.
My parents left their New York City roots for the simpler pastures of Sussex County – bringing me to Newton, N.J. when I was still an infant, so I am our first-generation of this rural community, though I didn’t know it until I left there.