21 counties cover New Jersey ranging from the large to the small, the rural to the urban, and the congested to the empty. The youngest one is 155 years old. The oldest four have survived 329 years and were around long before New Jersey and the rest of the colonies declared independence. In fact, they were around 50 years before George Washington was even born. That is longevity.
We rank the 21 counties according to size starting with the smallest in population and give you some fun facts and insights along the way. We won’t get into whether they are in North, South or Central Jersey (you can look at The Great Central Jersey Debate series for that), but you might learn a thing or two about your county. All data based on 2010 census. Today I lay out the 7 smallest counties, look out in the coming weeks for the other 14. Enjoy.
1. Salem County Pop. 65,902The least populated county in New Jersey, Salem is a place of historic significance. It was established in 1694 as one of the two original counties in West Jersey and currently holds the second oldest continually used courthouse in the United States- the aptly named Old Salem County Courthouse. According to legend, it was on the courthouse steps that, in 1820, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson stood and ate a basket of tomatoes in front of an awestruck crowd because up until that point the tomato was deemed too poisonous to eat. What a way to spend an afternoon.
2. Cape May County Pop. 96,601Old to older, Cape May County has Salem beat by two years as it was founded in 1692 out of portions of Burlington County. Cape May is a peninsula that juts out into the Delaware Bay and gets its name from Cornelius Jacobson Mey who explored the Bay. Thank you for not naming it Cape Cornelius. Anyway, Cape May thrives on tourism, but it also is home to a flourishing fish market. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual report on fisheries, in 2011 Cape May was ranked fifth in commercial fishery landings in the United States making approximately $103 million dollars off the industry.
3. Warren County Pop. 108,339The difference between our last county and Warren just shows you how eclectic New Jersey can be. Warren County was founded in 1824 out of portions of its northern neighbor Sussex. The county was named for Joseph Warren, a Revolutionary War General who was killed at Bunker Hill. However, its interesting history goes much further back. Geologically, Warren is a gold mine. It is a place of mountains and valleys encompassing the Kittany Ridge, Allamuchy Mountain, and the NY-NJ Highlands as well as the Kittatinny Valley and Lehigh Valley. So much colliding and plate shifting! Its geographic significance is a double-edged sword though as there is only one NJ Transit stop in the whole county due to its remote location and terrain.
4. Hunterdon County Pop. 128,038At its founding in 1714, Hunterdon was massive. It eoncompassed far more land than it does today as it was broken up into other counties over the years. I cannot say that it has done poorly in the break-up as it ranks in the top 20 in the nation for income. Hunterdon was actually named after a living person at the time- Robert Hunter was colonial governor of New Jersey from 1710-1720 and saw fit to have a county named after him. Honoring himself for his service four years into the job. The county is also a place of much infamy as the Lindbergh kidnapping trials were held in Flemington, its county seat, in 1935. The trial that saw Bruno Hauptmann executed a year later for the murder of Charles Lindbergh's son.
5. Sussex County Pop. 148,517In 1753, the most northern portion of what was Morris County broke off and formed Sussex County. The oftentime butt of other New Jerseyian's jokes, Sussex County has remained laregely rural since its founding. Some development has occured in eastern portions along the Passaic and Morris border, but a drive up Route 23 and anyone can tell where these northern central counties end, and Sussex begins. I liken it to George R. R. Martin's Winterfell in Game of Thrones, but in truth it is much more beautiful. Numerous state and federal parks keep it natural and open and the county's residents usually work elsewhere, in other counties or over either of its two borders into PA or NY. Sussex also holds the highest elevation in the entire state at High Point in Montague.
6. Cumberland County Pop. 157,095Along with Salem County, Cumberland is often lost in the minds of New Jerseyians who forget that these counties are actually a part of New Jersey. When in reality it has been here since 1748. "The other shore" as it is called (because it is not as visited as the main one) is not even easily accessible. Few major highways cut through Cumberland County; it is all state and county roads. If you are looking to visit "the other shore" via major roadways, (good luck) your best bet is Route 55 the only road with access to actual interstates like 295. I remember reading about Cumberland when I was younger in a New Jersey Magazine. The mystery surrounding a place so distant and remote intrigued me. Maybe one day it will intrigue me enough to visit.
7. Atlantic County Pop. 274,338From "the other shore" to the touristy shore, it may surprise some people how inland Atlantic County actually reaches. Founded in 1837, the comingling between the beach and this county cannot be understated (I mean, it's in the name), but there is much more to Atlantic County. Part of the Pine Barrens is in Atlantic County and the most direct route between Philadelphia and the coast cuts right through the county. The Atlantic City Expressway is the highway to be on in southern Jersey spanning from the City of Brotherly Love to America's Playground and cutting right through Hammonton, one of the up-and-coming towns of Atlantic County and the Blueberry Capital of the World.