Thursday, March 22, 2012

Straddling the Jerseys on Province Line Road

Drive around Mercer County near Princeton, and there's a chance you'll come across Province Line Road. Since you'd be comfortably inland from the state boundaries of the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean, you'd be excused for wondering how that name came about. The road certainly isn't marking any contemporary boundary, so what's the deal?

I discovered the cause during a recent wandering on County Route 518. Transfixed by the pastoral scenery, I saw the street sign for Province Line and took a turn to see where it would take me. Rounding the corner, I noticed this on my side of the intersection:

To save your eyes a bit of strain, I'll give you the synopsis. When the English took control of the New York/New Jersey area in 1664, the Duke of York gave New Jersey to two lords, Carteret and Berkeley, who probably never even set foot in the New World. The two then designated local representatives to sell portions of their shares to people who actually lived here, who became known as proprietors. (I shared a little of this in an entry about our visit to Perth Amboy last year.)

Look at the map on the plaque, and you'll see a dotted line above Three Bridges. That's where the fun starts. Naturally, when land is conveyed to new owners, boundaries are decided upon, but when it came to East and West Jersey, the process wasn't as simple as a brief discussion over a map. The Duke had divided the east and west provinces with a diagonal line reaching from Little Egg Harbor on the Atlantic to the spot where New Jersey and New York meet on the Delaware River. Sounds easy, right? It would have been, but that border wasn't officially settled until 1769. You can see the problem.

East-west lines were drawn in 1687 and 1719, but the one that stuck was plotted in 1743 by John Lawrence, now marked by Province Line Road near the plaque I found. Nonetheless, the proprietors of continued to squabble over the boundary for another 140 years. These guys really took their jobs seriously, even after their work ceased to have much relevance from a property-deeding perspective. They could learn a lesson from Steve Chernoski, the documentarian who's tackled the mystery of the line between North and South Jersey. Drive around a bit, ask the locals which side they identify with more, and decide by acclaim.

I read a few years ago that a group of surveyors were using GPS instruments to determine the straightness of Lawrence's line. If they drove the same stretch of Province Line Road that I did, they'd be pretty impressed. Check out how straight it is:

I wish I could report that the full length of the road is as pin-straight and travels clear to Little Egg Harbor, but it's not and it doesn't. About a mile away from where I took this photo, I ran into a dead end and had to resort to an intersecting street. Looking at the map when I got home, I discovered the road makes some twists and turns before terminating near a shopping mall.


  1. nice take friends while this fellow nut finds province line road does continue to mark the boundary between montgomery & hopewell here as well as between princeton & lawrenceville en route to its lost point of beginning on the coast in case you can help me find that too

    1. Hi, Aletheia - We haven't found the coastal end of the boundary, but we're keeping an eye out when we visit the Egg Harbor area. It's bound to be there somewhere!

  2. Living in Lawrence Twp, I often take Province Line Road to the Nassau Park Shopping Mall. I never followed it north. as for many years there was a traffic barrier as it crossed Rosedale Road in Princeton which simply said "Bridge Out." I do remember seeing the Province Line Rd sign as I traveled along Cherry Valley Road (which I believe forms the boundary between Mercer and Hunterdon counties) but never explored heading back south on Province Line Road.

    Thanks for putting it all together for me

  3. It's curious that you didn't discover there is much more of Province Line Road if you travel a little further south. Below Allentown there is another long,straight run along the county line between Monmouth and Burlington, that goes all the way into Arneytown. It then doglegs around some historic homes there, and continues on into Ocean county at Plumsted Township. Also some interesting historic spots along the way, like the old single lane truss bridge over Crosswicks Creek, Stoney Hill, and the Arneytown Tavern (ca. 1730).

  4. Just look at any County and Municipalities map of New Jersey and you'll see the original line that today marks the boundaries of towns and counties.

  5. In the southern end of Robbinsville, the end of Richardson Rd. meets with Edgebrook Rd. This small segment of Richardson Rd. marks the boundary between Hamilton and Robbinsville Townships and is the Province Line.

  6. Couple of things.

    (1) I was under the impression that the bridge did go out, and neighbors of that area pushed aggressively to not have it fixed because they wanted more privacy... not sure if that is true, but it was always hearsay.

    (2) The NJ State legislature districts still possess remnants of the old province line. It runs through 9 (but provides an internal voting boundary), is the border between 8 and 10, runs through 12 and 14 (another apparent internal boundary), and provides a border between 15 and 16.


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