Sussex County is the northernmost county in the State of New Jersey. Its county seat is Newton. It is part of the New York Metropolitan Area and is part of the state’s Skylands Region, a term promoted by the New Jersey Commerce, Economic Growth, & Tourism Commission to encourage tourism. As of the 2019 Census estimate, the county’s population was 140,488, making it the 17th-most populous of the state’s 21 counties, a 5.9% decrease from the 149,265 enumerated in the 2010 United States Census. Based on 2010 Census data, Vernon Township was the county’s largest in both population and area, with a population of 23,943 and covering an area of 70.59 square miles.
In 2015, the county had a per capita personal income of $55,497, the ninth-highest in New Jersey and ranked 220th of 3,113 counties in the United States. As of 2010 The Bureau of Economic Analysis ranked the county as having the 131st-highest per capita income ($49,207) of the 3,113 counties in the United States (and the ninth-highest in the state).
Recent studies estimate that 60% of Sussex County residents work outside of the county, many seeking or maintaining employment in New York City or New Jersey’s more suburban and urban areas.
The 2010 United States Census counted 149,265 people, 54,752 households, and 40,625.984 families in the county. The population density was 287.6 per square mile. There were 62,057 housing units at an average density of 119.6 per square mile.
The 54,752 households accounted 33.5% with children under the age of 18 living with them; 61% were married couples living together; 9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.8% were non-families. 21% of all households were made up of individuals, and 7.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.69 and the average family size was 3.14.
In the county, the population age was spread out with 24% under the age of 18, 7.6% from 18 to 24, 23.9% from 25 to 44, 32.6% from 45 to 64, and 12% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41.8 years. For every 100 females, the population had 98.5 males. For every 100 females ages 18 and older there were 96.9 males.
As seen from the Appalachian Trail in Vernon Township, Wawayanda Mountain rises to an elevation 1,448 feet above the watershed of Pochuck Creek (also known as Vernon Valley)
The Delaware River forms the western and northwestern boundary of Sussex County. This region is known as the Upper Delaware Valley and historically as the Minisink or Minisink Valley. Elevations in the regions along the river range from 300 to 500 feet.
Kittatinny Mountain is the dominant geological feature in the western section of the county. It is part of the Appalachian Mountains, and part of a ridge that continues as the Blue Mountain in Eastern Pennsylvania, and as Shawangunk Ridge in New York to the north. It begins in New Jersey as the eastern half of the Delaware Water Gap, and runs northeast to southwest along the Delaware River. Elevations range from 1,200 feet to 1,800 feet and attains a maximum elevation of 1,803 feet at High Point, in Montague Township. Between Kittatinny Mountain and the Delaware River is the Wallpack Ridge, a smaller, narrow ridge spanning 25 miles in length from the Walpack Bend near Flatbrookville north to Port Jervis, New York. Wallpack Ridge encloses the watershed of the Flat Brook and its two main tributaries Little Flat Brook and Big Flat Brook, and ranges in elevation from 500 feet to 900 feet and reaching its highest elevation at 928 feet.
The Kittatinny Valley lies to the east of Kittatinny Mountain and ends with the Highlands in the east. It is largely a region of rolling hills and flat valley floors. Elevations in this valley range from 400 to 1,000 feet. It is part of the Great Appalachian Valley running from eastern Canada to northern Alabama. This valley is shared by three major watersheds—the Wallkill River, with its tributaries Pochuck Creek and Papakating Creek flowing north; and the Paulins Kill watershed and Pequest River watershed flowing southwest. This valley floor consists of shale and slate (part of the Ordovician Martinsburg Formation) and of limestone (part of the Jacksonburg Formation). Several parties have argued about the possibility of natural gas extraction in the region’s Martinsburg and Utica shale formations, similar to the Marcellus Shale formations to the West in Pennsylvania and New York. Of special interest is Rutan Hill, a 440-million-year-old patch of igneous rock known as nepheline syenite. This site, north of Beemerville in Wantage Township, was once an ancient volcano—the only extant dormant volcano sites in the state.
Dividing the Kittatinny Valley (and the Ridge and Valley Province) from the Highlands region is a narrow fault of Hardyston Quartzite. Many of the mountains in the Highlands are not part of a solid, linear ridge and tend to randomly rise from the surrounding land as the result of folds, faults and intrusions. Elevations in the Highlands region range from 1,000 to 1,500 feet. The more prominent mountains in this area are Hamburg Mountain (elevation: 1,495 feet), Wawayanda Mountain (elevation 1,448 feet), Sparta Mountain (elevation: 1,232 feet) and Pochuck Mountain (elevation: 1,194 feet) which form a ridge along the county’s eastern flank.
Sussex County’s rivers and watersheds flow in three directions; north to the Hudson River, west and south to the Delaware River, and east toward Newark Bay.
- Wallkill Riveris an 88.3-mile-long river starting at its source at Lake Mohawk in Sparta Township drains north into Rondout Creek, a tributary of the Hudson River. The Wallkill River drains 785 square miles watershed.
- Pochuck Creekis an 8.1-mile-long creek flowing north into the Wallkill River.
- Papakating Creekis a 20.1-mile-long creek in the north central region of the county beginning in Frankford Township also drains into the Wallkill.
- Clove Creekis a 12.0-mile-long creek that flows into the Papakating Creek near Lewisburg in Wantage Township.
- The Flat Brookis a 11.6-mile-long creek flowing through Walpack and Sandyston Townships, joins the Delaware River at the Walpack Bend. It has two main tributaries: The Little Flat Brook whose length is 12.6-mile-long and Big Flat Brook whose length is 16.5-mile-long.
- The Paulins Kill(or, incorrectly, Paulinskill) is a 41.6-mile-long river with its two branches: the West Branch is fed by Bear Swamp, Lake Owassa, Culver’s Lake, and the Dry Brook in Frankford Township, the Main or East Branch starting at Newton combining near Augusta to flow southwest through Hampton, Stillwater, Hardwick, Blairstown, and Knowlton townships to join the Delaware River near the Delaware Water Gap. The Paulins Kill drains a 176.85 square miles watershed.
- The Pequest Riveris a 35.7-mile-long beginning near Newton and Springdale and flowing through in Andover and Green Township, then through Warren County before joining the Delaware near Belvidere
- The Musconetcong Riveris a 45.7-mile-long river beginning at Lake Hopatcong, forms the eastern border between Warren County and Morris and Hunterdon Counties. Its main tributaries are Lubbers Run and Punkhorn Creek.
- Small sections of eastern Sussex County drain into the watersheds of the Pequannock River, Passaic River, and Rockaway River which end in Newark Bay.
Historically, these rivers and streams were used to power various types of mills (i.e. grist mills, fulling mills, etc.), transport goods to market, and later to generate electric power (after 1880). Today, these rivers are chiefly used in local recreational activities—including canoeing and fishing. The Fish Culture Unit of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stocks these waterways each year with various species of trout. Some of these rivers—especially the Flat Brook, Paulins Kill and Pequest—have become well known as trout streams and for their suitability for fly-fishing. The Flat Brook and its tributary the Big Flat Brook are regarded as the state’s premiere trout stream.
Because of its topography, Sussex County has remained a relatively rural and forested area. In the western half of the county, several state and federal parks have kept the large tracts of land undeveloped and in their natural states. The eastern half of the county has had more suburban development because of its proximity to more populated areas and commercial development zones.
Early industry and commerce chiefly centered on agriculture, milling, and iron mining. As iron deposits were exhausted, mining shifted toward zinc deposits near Franklin and Ogdensburg during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The local economy expanded due to the introduction of railroads and shortly after the Civil War, the town centers hosted factories. However, the factories, railroads and mining declined by the late 1960s. Today, Sussex County features a mix of rural farmland, forests and suburban development. Because agriculture (chiefly dairy farming) has decreased and that the county hosts little industry, Sussex County is considered a “bedroom community” as most residents commute to neighboring counties (Bergen, Essex and Morris counties) or to New York City for work.
Although Sussex County’s dairy farming industry has declined significantly in the last 50 years it is still the majority of agricultural production in the region. Trucking has replaced railroads in the transportation of milk products to regional production facilities and markets. Rising taxes, regulation and decreasing profitability in dairy farming have forced farmers to adapt by growing other products or converting their farms to other uses. Many farmers have sold their properties to real estate developers who have built residential housing. Many Sussex County farms are nursery farms producing ornamental trees, plants and flowers used in horticulture, floristry or landscaping. Christmas trees and nursery and greenhouse plants contribute to 51% of the county’s annual crop revenues but account for 30% of crop production.
Despite the decline of dairy farming, it is still the largest contributor to the county’s annual agricultural revenues. According to the Sussex County Comprehensive Farmland Preservation Plan (2008):
dairy production has steadily trended downward since 1971, when the county produced 138 million pounds of milk. By 2005 this quantity had fallen to 38.4 million pounds. The decrease is further reflected in the number of dairy farms and milk cows in 1982 as compared to 2002. In 1982 there were 137 dairy farms; by 2002 the number had decreased to only 30. In 1982 there were 6,406 milk cows; in 2002 the quantity had fallen to 1,943.
According to county agricultural statistics, 17.3% of all crop sales ($1.4 million in 2002) were in hay. Nearly 80% of tilled farmland, or 21,195 acres on 43% of the farms in the county is dedicated to hay production. Much of hay is grown for feed on livestock farms — especially dairy farms — and never makes it to market and is therefore not included in federal agricultural census data. In 2002, 4,059 acres were dedicated to corn cultivation, the majority of it used for feed on the same farms.
According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Sussex County has 1,060 farms totaling 65,242 acres out of New Jersey’s total 10,327 farms managing 773,450 acres. This is up from 1,029 farms in the 2002 Census estimate. However, acreage dedicated to agriculture declined by 13.6% from 75,496 acres in 2002. Note though that 102,547 acres—roughly 30% of the county’s land area—are under farmland assessment for the purpose of calculating property tax levies. This decrease is total acreage is due, in large part, to “suburban sprawl” as farmers capitalized by converting to commercial and residential development. The average size of a farm in 2007 was 62 acres, down from 73 acres. The 207-acreage dedicated to agriculture is roughly 19.6% of the county’s land area. The county-wide total agricultural product sales in 2007 was $21,242,000, up from $14,756,000 in 2002. Total county market value of land and buildings in 2007 was $888,955,000, an increase from $520,997,000 in 2002. The average market value per farm was $838,636 (2007), up from $505,823 (2002). This results in a per acre price of $13,625 (2007), up from $7,136 (2002).
With the repeal of several prohibition-era alcohol laws in 1981, 43 wineries have become licensed and are operating in the state. New Jersey wines have grown in stature due to increased marketing and quality, recent successes and awards in competitions, and appreciation by critics. Sussex County is home to three established and operating wineries and three more are in development.
Industry and manufacturing
Sussex County’s industrial and manufacturing base is no longer towards heavy industry and mining. Today, companies like Thorlabs, are located here.
Morris County is home to 33 Fortune 500 businesses that have headquarters, offices or a major facility in Morris County. These include AT&T, Honeywell, Colgate-Palmolive, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, ExxonMobil, Novartis, BASF, Verizon, and Bayer, among others. Major industries include finance, insurance, real estate, pharmaceuticals, health services, research and development, and technology. There are 13,000 acres set aside for 28 county parks. Four county golf courses and 16 public and private courses are in Morris.
Primary and secondary schools
Fredon Elementary School in Fredon Township offers a comprehensive K-6 education. The school was awarded the National Blue-Ribbon Award for Academic Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education in 2001.
Before 1942, Sussex County had over 100 school districts. Most of these districts were in rural townships that each had several districts—each district operating a one-room schoolhouse that served their small neighborhoods. During the forty-year tenure (1903–1942) of County School Superintendent Ralph Decker, the local government began to consolidate these small districts into larger municipality-wide or regional school districts.
The public-school system in Sussex County offers a “thorough and efficient” education for children between the ages of five and eighteen years (grades K–12), as required by state constitution, through nine local and regional public high school districts, and twenty public primary or elementary school districts. Because of its distance from other county high schools and the higher costs of busing students one of those locations, Montague Township (the northernmost municipality in the state) sends most of its middle school (grades 7–8) and high school students (grades 9–12) to Port Jervis, New York for schooling. However, in 2013, Montague began exploring alternatives that would involve keeping their students in-state by sending them to High Point Regional High School in neighboring Wantage Township. Several of the county’s schools are highly ranked by both state and federal education departments; some of which have achieved the U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School Award. The county’s Board of Chosen Freeholders oversees the Sussex County Technical School (formerly the Sussex County Vocational-Technical School), a county-wide technical high school in Sparta Township.
Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta operates under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, which also operates Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School (PreK-4) and Pope John XXIII Middle School in Sparta. There are several other private schools in the county.
Sussex County’s 10 high schools compete in interscholastic sports and other athletic activities sanctioned by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA). In 2009, the NJSIAA reorganized statewide athletic leagues into regional conferences. Prior to this reorganization, these schools competed under the auspices of the Sussex County Interscholastic League (SCIL), a now-defunct county-wide conference affiliated with NJSIAA. SCIL and other Morris and Warren County high schools compete under the NJSIAA’s Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference.
Sussex County Community College (commonly referred to as SCCC), which opened in 1982, is an accredited, co-educational, two-year, public, community college located on a 167-acre campus in Newton. The SCCC campus was the site of Don Bosco College, a Roman Catholic seminary operated by the Salesian Order from 1928 until it was closed in the early 1980s and its campus sold to the Sussex County government on 22 June 1989 for US$4,209,800.
SCCC was authorized as a “college commission” in 1981 and began operations the following year. It became fully accredited in 1993 by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. SCCC offers 40 associate degree and 16 post-secondary professional and health science certificate programs available both at traditional classes at its campus, through hybrid and online classes, and through distance learning. Many students who attend SCCC transfer to pursue the completion of their undergraduate college education at a four-year college or university. The college also offers programs for advanced high school students, community education courses, and programs in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. As of 2015, SCCC reported an enrollment of 2,738 students of which 55% attend full-time and 45% attended part-time.
Before it closed in 1995, Upsala College, a Lutheran-affiliated college in East Orange, New Jersey, operated a 245-acre satellite campus in Wantage Township which it named the “Wirth Campus.” In 1978, the land known as “Twin Ponds Farm” had been donated by Wallace “Wally” Wirths (1921–2002), a former Westinghouse Corporation executive, author, local newspaper columnist and radio commentator. The school had considered moving to Sussex County as East Orange’s crime problem and social conditions deteriorated in the 1970s. However, declining enrollment and financial difficulties forced the school to close. The Wirths family bought back the farm for $75,000.
The basement of the Sussex County Hall of Records was the home to the first official Sussex County Library when it opened its doors on May 15, 1942. A 1936 International book truck was used to mobilize the more than 8,000 books the library had amassed by the end of their first year. Today, the Sussex Library County System (SLCS) circulates over 600,000 items through its six branches.
The Main Library is located in Newton and is where all new materials are procured and then distributed to the five branch libraries. The five branch libraries are the Dennis Memorial Branch, named for Mr. Alfred L. Dennis who gifted a sum of $25,000 to build the first library (the Dennis Library) in the county in 1872. The Dorothy Henry Branch, located in Vernon, was renamed in 1981 after the passing of the county’s first librarian. The Franklin Branch, which opened in 1964 and was the first official branch of the Sussex County Library System. The Louise Childs branch, located in Stanhope, opened in 1981 and was named in memory of Edith Louise Childs, who served for twenty-one years as Sussex County Clerk of the Board. Finally, the Sussex-Wantage branch which was formerly known as the Sussex Public Library, is located in Wantage.
It is the mission of the Sussex County Library System to provide Sussex County residents with services and resources that provide for their educational, informational and recreational needs. The county’s six libraries strive to not only supply its residents with print books but also e-books, audiobooks, downloadable audio books, magazines and newspapers, DVDs, videogames, CDs and databases that cover subjects from alchemy to zoology. All six locations have computers with high-speed internet access for public use, as well as Wi-Fi for use with laptops, tablets and other devices. The libraries are also equipped with meeting rooms available for use by the public whenever they are not being utilized for story hour or any of the multitude of programs the library sponsors.
To check out the SCLS website, go to http://www.sussexcountylibrary.org
Sussex County is part of the Skylands Region, a term promoted by the New Jersey Commerce, Economic Growth, & Tourism Commission to encourage regional tourism. New Jersey ranks fifth in the nation in revenues generated from tourism.
Local dairy farmers have had to adapt to a declining milk and dairy industry and reacclimate to changing economic conditions by seeking new sources of revenue. Combining their agricultural production while promoting tourism, “Agritourism” has created opportunities for farmers. Many Sussex County farms offer corn field mazes, “u-pick” or “pick your own” fruits and vegetables—especially for apples, strawberries, pumpkins and Christmas trees during their respective harvest seasons.
New Jersey’s wine industry has benefited from the recent easing of state alcohol licensing laws and from new promotional and marketing programs offered by the state’s Department of Agriculture. Of the state’s 46 licensed wineries, Sussex County is home to three: Cava Winery & Vineyard in Hamburg, Ventimiglia Vineyard in Wantage Township, and Westfall Winery in Montague Township.
Sussex County Fairgrounds
The Sussex County Farm and Horse Show in the Augusta of Frankford Township, which has operated since 1940, has been known as the New Jersey State Fair since 1999.
The fair grounds are also host to the Sussex County Poultry Fanciers Spring and Fall shows. In 2019 the Serama Council of North America (SCNA) will hold Jersey’s first ever SCNA Serama Table Top show.
There are 12 wildlife management areas located in Sussex County for hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, covering more than 15,000 acres. There are also several state forests and state parks.
Skiing and winter sports
In the 1960s, Vernon Township became a location for skiing and winter sports.
- Mountain Creek
- Hidden Valley– Since January 2016, the area has been repurposed as the National Winter Activity Center, which provides education and ski / snowboard instruction to groups that might not have access to winter sports.
Sussex County has one large venue for professional sports, Skylands Stadium, a 4,200-seat baseball stadium located in the Augusta section of Frankford Township near the intersection of U.S. Route 206, New Jersey Route 15, and County Route 565. While it was home to two minor league baseball teams and one semi-professional football team, and briefly hosted other franchises, it has been vacant for several years. In 2013, Skylands Park was acquired by investor Mark Roscioli Jr., of 17 Mile, LLC for $950,000. Roscioli who admits a lack of experience in sports management was negotiating to bring a baseball team to the park but sold the facility to an unknown buyer.
With the rise of professional Minor League Baseball in the 1990s, Sussex County became the home to the New Jersey Cardinals, a Class A-Short Season affiliate of Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals franchise in 1994. The Cardinals, previously the Glens Falls Redbirds (1981–93) from upstate New York, won the New York–Penn League’s championship in their 1994 inaugural season. They had one other winning season (in 2002) and in 2005 the owners sold the team—which was then moved to University Park, Pennsylvania and renamed the State College Spikes. They are now affiliated with MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates franchise. In 2006, Skylands Park became the home of the Sussex Skyhawks an affiliate of the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball (or Can-Am League). The team were League Champions during the 2008 season. The team ceased operations after the 2010 season.
Roads and highways
Sussex County is served by a number of roads connecting it to the rest of the state and to both Pennsylvania and New York. According to the county government, “a vast majority of residents who use single occupant vehicles to travel outside the county for employment. Thus, the demand for public transportation in the county is minimal. Interstate 80 passes through the extreme southern tip of Sussex County solely in Byram. Interstate 84 passes just yards north of Sussex County, but never enters New Jersey. New Jersey’s Route 15, Route 23, Route 94, Route 181, Route 183, and Route 284 pass through the County, as does U.S. Route 206.
As of 2010, the county had a total of 1,313.67 miles of roadways, of which 888.54 miles were maintained by the local municipality, 313.29 miles by Sussex County and 111.35 miles by the New Jersey Department of Transportation and 0.49 miles by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.
Sussex County has two toll-bridge crossings over the Delaware River.
Operated by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, the Milford-Montague Toll Bridge (also known as the US 206 Toll Bridge) carries U.S. Route 206 over the Delaware connecting Montague Township and Milford, Pennsylvania. The current bridge was opened in 1954, replacing a series of bridges located here beginning in 1826.73–85 Route 206 merges with U.S. Route 209 a mile south of the village center. Tolls are collected only from motorists traveling westbound, into Pennsylvania, with cars paying a $1 toll; a total of $1.7 million was generated from 1.3 million vehicles in 2016.
The Dingman’s Ferry Bridge is the last privately owned toll bridge on the Delaware River and one of the last few in the United States. It is owned and operated by the Dingmans Choice and Delaware Bridge Company which has operated bridges at the site since 1836. The bridge connects the village of Dingmans in Delaware Township in Pike County, Pennsylvania and State Route 2019 with County Route 560 and the Old Mine Road in Sandyston Township.
Commuter rail service
As of 2012, Sussex County’s sole operating railroad line is dedicated to freight service in Sparta, Vernon and Hardyston townships. It is operated by the New York, Susquehanna & Western railroad and CSX Transportation. Commuter rail service has not been offered in the county since the 1960s. However, commuter rail service is available from nearby stations along NJ Transit’s Morris and Essex Lines in Hackettstown, Mount Olive, Netcong, Lake Hopatcong, Mount Arlington and Dover, which are easily accessible to Sussex County residents by driving or through bus services contracted by NJ Transit. This line was part of the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad system. Service is available directly to Hoboken Terminal or via the Kearny Connection (opened in 1996) to Secaucus Junction and Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan. Passengers can transfer at Newark Broad Street Station or Summit to reach either New York or Hoboken.
NJ Transit is planning to re-open commuter service through the Lackawanna Cut-Off route which passes through Andover and Green Townships in the southern part of the county. Service from a planned station in Andover into New York City and Hoboken is scheduled to begin in 2019. The portion of the Cut-Off route west of Andover heading toward Scranton, Pennsylvania has not been funded or scheduled.
NJ Transit in partnership with the county government offers bus service in Sussex County, limited to Monday-Saturday service on the “Skylands Connect” route between the Sussex-Wantage Library and Hampton Plaza in Newton, NJ. The county government’s Office of Transit also operates a ParaTransit bus service on weekdays to local senior citizens, veterans, people with disabilities, and the general public. It offers service within the county for local errands (nutrition, medical appointments, shopping, hairdresser appointments, banking, community services, education/training, and employment) and outside the county for non-emergency medical appointments (dialysis, therapy, radiation treatment, mental health, specialized hospitals, and Veterans facilities). NJ Transit also offers weekday service between New York City’s Midtown Port Authority Bus Terminal and Stockholm, and seasonal service to Vernon.
Lakeland Bus Lines, a privately operated commuter bus company based in Dover, in Morris County offers service under contract with NJ Transit between Newton and Sparta to New York City’s Midtown Port Authority Bus Terminal.
There are four general aviation public-use airports in Sussex County that cater to recreational pilots. They include:
- Aeroflex-Andover Airport(FAA LID 12N) also in Andover Township. This airport is located in Kittatinny Valley State Park and is owned and operated by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. It has one 1,981 feet runway designated 3/21 and is located at an elevation of 583 feet above mean sea level.
- Newton Airport(FAA LID 3N5) located in Andover Township and is privately owned. It has one 2,546 feet runway with a 6/24 designation and is located at an elevation of 620 feet above mean sea level.
- Sussex Airport(FAA LID FWN) located in Wantage Township and is privately owned. It has a 3,499 feet runway with a 3/21 designation and is located at an elevation of 421 feet above mean sea level.
- Trinca Airport(FAA LID 13N) located in and owned by Green Township, which has a 1,924-foot grass runway with a 6/24 designation and located at an elevation of 600 feet above mean sea level.