The three mid-Atlantic states – New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey – stand at the heart of the most populated and industrialized corner of the US. Although dominated in the popular imagination by the grey smokestacks of New Jersey and steel factories of Pennsylvania, these states actually encompass beaches, mountains, islands, lakes, forests, rolling green countryside and many worthwhile small cities and towns.
European settlement here was characterized by considerable shifts and turns: the Dutch, who arrived in the 1620s, were methodically squeezed out by the English, who in turn fought off the French challenge to secure control of the region by the mid-eighteenth century. The Native American population, including the Iroquois Confederacy and Lenni Lenape, had sided with the French against the English and were soon confined to reservations or pushed north into Canada. At first, the economy depended on the fur trade, though by the 1730s English Quakers, along with Amish and Mennonites from Germany, plus a few Presbyterian Irish, had made farming a significant force, their holdings extending to the western limits of the region.
All three states were important during the Revolution: more than half the battles were fought here, including major American victories at Trenton and Princeton in New Jersey. Upstate New York was geographically crucial, as the British forces knew that American control of the Hudson River would effectively divide New England from the other colonies. After the Revolution, industry became the region’s prime economic force, with mill towns springing up along the numerous rivers. By the mid-1850s the large coalfields of northeast Pennsylvania were powering the smoky steel mills of Pittsburgh and the discovery of high-grade crude oil in 1859 marked the beginning of the automobile age. Though still significant, especially in the regions near New York City, heavy industry has now largely been replaced by tourism as the economic engine.
Although many travellers to the East Coast do not venture much further than New York City itself, the region offers varied attractions, from the crashing Atlantic surf of Long Island, through the wooded Catskill Mountains and the imposing Adirondacks, occupying a quarter of the state, to the cultured and pastoral Finger Lakes. In the northwest corner of the state, beyond the Erie Canal cities along I-90, awesome Niagara Falls and artsy post-industrial Buffalo hug the Canadian border. Pennsylvania is best known for the fertile Pennsylvania Dutch country and the two great cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. New Jersey, often pictured as one big industrial carbuncle, offers shameless tourist pleasures along the shore – from the boardwalk and casinos of Atlantic City to the small-town charm of Cape May.
The entire region is well covered by public transport, and metropolitan areas have good local transport systems that radiate out to outlying areas, meaning that only in the wilder forest and mountain areas do you really need a car. Car rental is expensive out of New York City, so better done from one of the other cities.