The MTV reality show Jersey Shore solidified an image of the titular New Jersey vacation destination as one of bustling boardwalks and trashy drama. Then there’s Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, over 250 miles away, far from any seashore, and nearly the complete antithesis of the craziness that the name typically conjures.
Maybe the only thing they have in common is that where the show made a joke of over-the-top New Jersey personas, the Central Pennsylvania town also got its name from making fun of some guys from New Jersey.
Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, is a small borough near the center of the state that’s home to a population of just over 4,000 as of 2016. “Modern day Jersey Shore is a small, close-knit community, nestled along the west branch of the Susquehanna River,” says Jersey Shore Borough Manager Joseph Hamm. “There’s a lot of pride in our small borough,” he says. Home to a nationally recognized historic district that preserves a number mid-19th century structures, and surrounded by scenic wilderness, the area could hardly be more different than the party-hard beach destination the next state over.
So how did this quiet, landlocked burg come to share a name with its more famous counterpart? In some ways, it all goes back to an old joke.
The area that is now known as Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, was claimed as a state territory in 1785. Among the first to settle on the western bank of the bending Susquehanna River was Reuben Manning of Essex County, New Jersey. Manning left the Garden State, possibly to escape the growing population in his home state, and start his own community inland.
The land where he started his settlement was owned by his nephew, Thomas Forster, who was also originally from New Jersey. Forster owned and lived on a large island (which was also confusingly named: Long Island) in the middle of the Susquehanna, just across the water from the Manning settlement.
The Manning settlement survived into the 1800s, and began to grow around the turn of the century. As it got bigger, Manning named the village Waynesburg. A post office bearing that name opened in 1806. But the name didn’t last.
The change ultimately came thanks to settlers across the river in what is today called Nippenose Township. According a 2012 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the settlers on the eastern side of the river, who were mostly Scotch-Irish, were fond of coming to the taverns on the western side of the river to “raise some hell.” The area earned the nickname “Jersey Shore” as a joking reference to Manning and his fellow New Jerseyans, who were increasingly moving to the western side of the river. And they couldn’t live it down.
In 1826, the town was legally organized not under the name Waynesboro, but as Jersey Shore, making what had essentially been a nickname official. Even the name of the post office changed.
Despite it being hundreds of miles from the coast, people still manage to get confused, says Hamm. “We’ve had multiple interactions with folks who think they’re calling, or coming to a town with a beach,” says Hamm. “I had a wife call whose husband was a local officer wherever they were living, and she was calling to see if we had any officer openings because her and her family would love to live in a community where it wouldn’t take them long to get to the beach. I had to break the news to her.”