All About River Heights
The Mysterious City of River Heights

WHAT CITY IN THE UNITED STATES seems to you, to be the counterpart to the fictitious city of River Heights? That was the inquiry posed to these magnanimous respondents, at the NancyDrewSleuths discussion site by means of an opinion survey prepared expressly for this expose.

"For some reason, when I was a child reading these books, I always had the belief that River Heights was somewhere in Illinois." --TODD

"I definitely think Chicago." --Marci

"I always assumed that River Heights was somewhere in Ohio." --Paula

"I always really pictured Iowa." --Snorky Pam

"As a child, I thought that the stories took place in New Jersey, but later developed the idea that it was a smaller city in southern Illinois or somewhere in Ohio." --PQ

map of new jersey

"I always imagined River Heights to be in the Northeast." --Carol

"I have always been of the opinion that River Heights is near the eastern coast..."  --Suzy (Y)

"I always seemed to imagine that River Heights was located in the middle of the U.S. But then in "Crumbling Wall" and Tolling Bell and Whispering Statue, those locales were near the water or seashore and I then thought of the Eastern Coast for some reason." --Kathleen

"No specific city comes to mind but I have always considered River Heights as being located in Ohio."     --Donna

"Either Ohio or Iowa as they were two states that Millie seemed the most familiar with and that's probably where she based River Heights as being located." --JK

As can be detected by reading those clever ripostes, it becomes evident that there are four unique regions, which are discernable as potential quarters to River Heights. More to the point, the states most intrepidly ascribed are Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, and Iowa. There are also a few illuminating reasons for these assessments, as it appears nearly all of the suppositions come from perusal of the mystery stories at hand. This raison d'Ítre inexorably emerges by conception from scrutiny of the original, revised, and later texts of the classic series and furthermore, discernment of the environs where the ghostwriters resided.

If one were to read the original texts exclusively, one would essentially envisage the fashionably small city established in the Mid-west, most notably in the states of Iowa and Ohio. This suggestion formulates in view of the well-known fact, that the principal and most legendary ghostwriter of the introductory narratives, Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson (1905-2002), was born and raised in Ladora, Iowa, a small town near Iowa City.

Map of Iowa
Map of Iowa

Many mysteries in the original tales occur in Nancys midwestern city. Since initially, River Heights and surrounding localities were representative of this indigenous area, we can sagaciously presume that Mildred Benson depicted this fair city after an authentic place in Iowa and Ohio. Should one surmise further, the implication might well be true that she would have portrayed River Heights from her own individual experiences garnered from living in these midwestern states.

An added mysterious letter that River Heights is fashioned after a small city in Iowa, is a connotation from an acquaintance, who writes a strange message in a parchment:

"RIVER HEIGHTS is River Heights Dr. located in Mason City, Iowa. I lived one block from it. It ran from 5th St SE to So. Carolina, following the Winnebago River & is still there. There is a foot bridge that connects it to 2nd St SE, so that you can walk across the bridge & not have to go around to other streets."  --Marilyn

Understandably, Mildred could have transcribed her intuitive accounts of Ohio too, in her picturesque depictions of River Heights. "When she Married Asa Wirt in 1928 they did not go directly to Toledo, Ohio, but at first after leaving Iowa, settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where Asa worked as a press correspondent."(1)

Map of Ohio
Map of Ohio

Conceivably, this astounding ghostwriter may well have built Nancys inexplicable world upon those very regions, since Mildred had wrote many, but not all of the original mysteries while living in the Middle West, upward to and including the first printing of number thirty, The Clue of the Velvet Mask, in 1953. (2) Incidentally, this festooned mystery takes place in Nancys own hometown, River Heights' final titivation by this notable author!

In comparison to the above view while investigating the revised and later texts of the classic series, one might ponder that the authors may have obliquely hinted of River Heights being located nearer to the east coast, in particular, the state of New Jersey.  Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (1892-1982), another prominent and innovative ghostwriter, composed or re-wrote the larger part of the later texts while continuously inhabiting this eastern state.

An additional recognized fact is that the Stratemeyer Syndicate, initially sited in New York City, moved their offices in New Jersey on two different occasions, following the death of Edward Stratemeyer. "After Harriet and Edna settled Edward's estate, since his wife, Magdalene, was a semi-invalid and unable to do so, they moved the Syndicate offices to East Orange, New Jersey in November 1930. Some years later they moved the offices to Maplewood, New Jersey."(3)

Apparently, Harriet also lived in those vicinities, allowing her to be in close proximity to the syndicate headquarters. Thus, it is perceivable by conjecture alone, that she perhaps circuitously and indirectly hinted about the sought after city of its positioning in that particular state while writing these volumes. By logically deducing the condensed distances it would take Nancy Drew to arrive at out of town destinations, such as New York City, New York, River Heights would theoretically align with this location, in that way, hauntingly bridge the violation of travel time in the revised and later texts.

Furthermore, why not have some added degree of speculation on this, whereas Harriet Adams alludes to this precise fact, in an article she wrote for TV Guide magazine printed in 1977? Responding to where she gets her ideas for the mystery stories she writes, "Secondly, story incidents evolve from research, travel, and personal experience."(Emphasis added)(4) Puzzlingly, rarely is there ever a telltale sign indicative of a specific city in New Jersey, with the exception of East Orange. Looking for an indication in some long ago missing map, a sleuth might stumble upon the clue that East Orange, and Maplewood are only 4 miles away from each other, in the state of New Jersey!

Harriet started the revisions of the early books in 1959(5), beginning as of number one to number thirty-four The Hidden Window Mystery, also rewriting a few of these texts. She then went on to consecutively write the remaining Nancy Drew stories from number thirty-five The Haunted Showboat, up to number fifty-six The Thirteenth Pearl, printed in 1979. Note that ghostwriters Ann Shultz and Mary Fisher later revised volumes 33 and 34 respectively, though Harriet Adams wrote these original texts! (6)

Chicago, Illinois--USGS
Ariel photo of Chicago, Illinois

Another consideration offered with alacrity, is the creation of River Heights in the manner of a small rural district, not far-off from Chicago, Illinois. In contrast, further examination has Chicago itself being the prototypical city for River Heights! In keeping with the assertion of reduced travel time, the previously mentioned reference is also in theory for this foundation, and as well, books that are more recently inscribed with Nancy Drew as the fundamental character. This strange and mystifying case only concerns those books of the original, revised, and later texts of the first fifty-six volumes of the classic series; hence, not to be the forgotten city, we may yet think about River Heights as a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.

To be reasonable, in uncovering a small metropolitan locality that may perhaps be a counterpart to the authors rendering of River Heights, we are required to first perceive the representation of what variety the small community is. For this we must go in pursuit of information from those endearing mystery books as regards to location, landmarks, weather patterns, terrain descriptions, and distances traveled to other true cities mentioned, which are all central in defining River Heights. We should then endeavor to correspond these clues to the distinguishable locales previously mentioned.

With these indications provided, part three of this markedly intriguing series, Where is River Heights? will in that case, correlate these existent cities with the simulated and much admired rural community of River Heights. Further, we will eliminate some of the cities mentioned by deciphering which of the actual cities have the essentials particular to River Heights and which do not. By this, we will further refine our ostensibly momentous quest for that ever-elusive city of River Heights.

Map images of New Jersey and Iowa are used by permission, Courtesy of The General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Ariel photograph of Chicago, Illinois, is By Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

(1.)   (2.)   (6.) With Permission, by Courtesy of Jenn Fisher. Copyright © 2001, 2002 by Jenn Fisher.

(3.) With Permission, by Courtesy of James D. Keeline.

(4.) Courtesy of TV Guide June 25,1977, "Their Success Is No Mystery," by Harriet Adams, pg. 13-16. Copyrights in the TV Guide cover and in TV Guide magazine are the property of TV Guide Magazine Group, Inc. Copyright © 2002 TV Guide Magazine Group, Inc.

(5.) Courtesy of The Unofficial Stratemeyer Syndicate HomePage, Copyright © 1997-2001 Larilana Group, Ltd. With permission granted by this document;