All About River Heights
All Around River Heights

"THEN I AM OFF on the trail to locate just such a place," Nancy announced determinedly. (Password to Larkspur Lane, 1933) Perhaps we get the determination from Nancy herself, in proposing that River Heights is discoverable somewhere tangible.  She would probably be elated to detect her sleuthing chums resolutely involved in a curious and perplexing mystery that might later, become known as "The Mysterious City of River Heights."
In Password to Larkspur Lane, River Heights is "a long narrow community built up on the banks of the river in a north and south direction."(OT pg. 71)  And a good description of the Muskoka River is heartily shared in The Clue in the Crumbling Wall as "wide near town but the upper reaches were narrow and twisted and turned at such sharp angles that fast travel was out of the question." (OT pg. 17)  These clues are exceedingly important, as we will later learn in this discourse.
Instead of tediously naming every single book from where these clues are collected, the enthusiast of The Nancy Drew Mysteries Stories should be able to perceive, from which book come the names of roads, cities, and other descriptions of River Heights that are to follow.  By this, we will simplify our search for the missing city and not cloud it with many such notations that might perhaps impede our purpose.  Therefore, the mention of specific books, pages, and texts will have a less significant factor in this representation. With the straightforward charts provided here, the plucky sleuth will have visual assistance in determining the location of River Heights.


Let us first begin with the terrain descriptions in Table 1 that present some traces to the small city's location.  It is easily discernable that the vicinity of River Heights has farmland, lakes, prairie land, and some mountains, etc. These symbols, unveiled throughout the legendary imagery, are from Nancy Drew roving all over the nearby countryside.  This chart compares those terrain images to the states chosen for this mystery.

Reading The Clue of the Leaning Chimney will reveal how white china clay deposits are important to this story.  White china clay or kaolin abundantly contain the bright white to brown crystallized clay mineral Kaolinite, formed by the transformation of alumino-silicate minerals, into primarily feldspars, one of the Earths most common minerals.  Chiefly, this clay is for creating ceramics.  There are different examples of this white china clay found throughout the United States and realistically it exist in these states, since they do in fact have deposits of other varieties of clay as well.  Grinding the white feldspar into a fine powder and adding it to a clay recipe also creates this white china clay.  Kaolinite has a propensity to fill the entire cavities of those gorgeous rocks called geodes, which while we are on the subject, is the state rock of Iowa!
There is also a hint in this same book, of a Civil War iron mine located somewhere near to River Heights.  Note that all these states have iron mines and additionally each state historically produced iron ore at some stage in the civil war particularly Ohio, which is exceptionally rich in iron ore.  Civil War iron mine is commonplace since all four of our states have great histories about them.
In spite of contrary belief that the states of Iowa and New Jersey are typically flat, the ever judicious amateur sleuth will find ski resort listings for both states, each with images of mountains, and as well, suggestions of cliffs and rolling hills.  Table 1 vindicates all our clues, as every part of the featured terrain descriptions equal all of our preferred states, with the exception of New Jersey, which is positively not a midwestern state. In addition, we should take into account at this time that revised text of The Secret of the Old Clock strips Nancy Drew of her "daughter of the Middle West "status, which was earlier, given to her in the original text publication of the same title!


Appearing in those writings, are moderately detectable scraps of information that pertain to cities located in proximity to River Heights.  Some passages even express miles, almost precise in the distances to some of these cities, undoubtedly put there to tease the reader.  Supporting telltale signs become apparent as established in Table 2 by the colored boxes, which mean there are exact matches. This chart tells us that there are genuine city names in our four states, which draw an analogy to the fictional ones written in those surprising textbooks.
Although this catalog may not be inclusive of all the cities uncovered in the series, some of the most frequently named cities specified are; Winchester, Mapleton, Masonville, Moonlake, Sylvan Lake, and Dockville.  Other discovered cities do not have actual counterparts in our suspected states, so are for that reason, omitted from this table.  These cities are; Danford, Moonlake, Riverside Heights, Dockville, Tartanville, The Cedars, Candleton, Mountainville, Landsdownes, Lake Sevanee, Vernonville, Crag Mountain, Martin City, West Granby and Arbutus.

Note how the states of Iowa and Illinois have the greatest amount of actual cities named after the fictitious ones found in the syndicated books.  Perhaps, it may be that the original texts stunningly contain more fictional cities mentioned, and in so doing, bestowing upon the reader a foretaste that maybe some of the designated cities written within by Mildred Benson, are fashioned after cities from her own Midwestern neighborhood.
Equally conspicuous, is that New Jersey and Ohio is even with seven actual cities.  Furthermore, Table 2 is critical of the revised/later text vs. original text option, since frankly, the revised and later texts do not have many real-named cities analogous to the eastern US, where quite the opposite is true; that there are exceptionally more devised cities in the later texts that compare to the Middle West states!  Then again, these texts are notoriously indistinct in naming cities, mostly since Nancy is traveling to more out of state and out of country locations.
Amusingly, what sleuth would ever have thought that there could be so many cities nearby River Heights?  With these 38 city names garnered from the series books, and shrewdly knowing that there are a few more yet unlisted here, a skillful detective would suppose River Heights then easily found.  Contrarily not so, when we look at this data and realize these cities appears somewhat regularly distributed in our well-known states in Table 2, hardly narrowing the list.  Statistically, there are 23 cities listed in this table, compared to 15 that are not.


Many of the mystery stories have intense portrayals of thunderstorms, which convey to the reader an impression that the regions near River Heights receive considerable amounts of rainfall.  This is true of both the original and revised/later text versions.  By peering at Table 3, we can determine that all of our listed states gets abundant rain, with New Jersey receiving the most, and in all likelihood from being near the Atlantic Ocean. While similarly, Illinois and Ohio are in the Great Lakes region and Iowa somewhat southwest of that.  Observe that this particular index states estimated rainfall in inches per year.

Illustrations of "driving" snow reminiscent of Mystery at the Ski Jump, causes one to realize that the state in which the amateur detective lives, catches snowfall in the winter months.  With information concerning real annual snowfall in all states being fragmentary at best, it is difficult to collect acceptable statistics to recount here.  The snowfall is in terms of estimated averages per year, per state, and accounts for the high altitude and southern-most portions of those states. All of the states listed in Table 3 are located in the northern United States so, every one chronicled here inescapably receive yearly snowfalls, due to their obvious locations.
Earlier in this essay, there is mention of the fact that Mildred Wirt Benson was born and raised in Ladora, Iowa.  Upon inspection of this rather small settlement, it appears that this little town would still in the present day, be too undersized to account for some of Mildreds rendered descriptions of River Heights.  For that reason, nearby Iowa City will be the elective city for the state of Iowa.  Symbolically chosen, this city is where for some years, Millie attended The University of Iowa.  Therefore, it is feasible that she shaped some parts of River Heights upon her recollections of this attractive mid-western city.
Presented previously in this article too, was that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams lived in the state of New Jersey, in two different, but very close cities.  We will combine Maplewood and East Orange here, and so as not to be redundant, will simply call these cities by one name, East Orange.  Left separated are Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio, since there is a noticeable distance in miles between the two cities, and more, Mildred Benson had lived in both of these cities while compiling most of the original texts Nancy Drews.  Also held in reserve is Chicago, Illinois, for the very fact that many of these essentials do startlingly coincide with that turbulent city.  This is particularly incredible since these books rigorously maintain that Nancy travels from River Heights to Chicago in all the text versions!
Now that we have made the above assertions, let us go on to look at landmarks and a few of the businesses that appear in the storybooks.  Again, so as not to be demanding of the mock-up cities, businesses such as restaurants, department stores, and entertainment companies, glove and trunk manufacturers, etc., do not appear in the list.  Likewise not chronicled are the civic buildings such as post offices, libraries, schools, and, entertainment venues. It is prudent to believe in any case, that these actual cities unquestionably contain(ed) many buildings with these characteristics.  However, we will look at just a couple of the pertinent clues, which are readily distinguishable in Table 4.
































































Instinctively, Nancy Drew bookworms understand that some of the landmarks local to River Heights are: a train station, airport, yacht club, museum of art, and the Muskoka River amongst others.  The captivating tales tell of these pointers, in the most unassuming and matter of fact way.  Scrutinizing the landmark table, one would see that Iowa City, Iowa and Cleveland, Ohio possess all of the markers in question.  The search also included marinas in place of yacht clubs so that it is noticeable where East Orange, New Jersey does not have a river or a marina but does indeed a yacht club!

In place of printed media for Nancys city, there is the River Heights Gazette, reported numerous times in the stories.  Note in Table 4 that Iowa City and Cleveland, both have the Gazette newspaper boxes filled in.  Interestingly, The Clue in the Old Album OT manifestly discloses two clues of auditory media as well.  Found west of River Heights, is the city of Winchester and the KIO radio station therein.  Additionally, there are the station letters WXEB, strikingly called out to tantalize the reader.

In most cases within the US, the first letter K denotes stations found west of the Mississippi River and the first W, east of the Mississippi.  Intriguingly, Des Moines, Iowa has a radio station with call letters that closely resemble the inscriptions in this book.  The telling letters are KIOA, and further, Des Moines is west of Iowa City, just as Winchester is to River Heights!  Similarly, Illinois has two distinct stations with call letters that nearly match the ones formerly mentioned, WXEF found in Effingham, and WXET in Arcola.  Both of these stations are southeast of Iowa and more to the point, east of the Mississippi River.  This imparts a strong hunch that the River Heights in this volume might presently be the clone of Iowa City, given that we have just practically triangulated its position from the clues in this old album!  Stranger yet, is that KIOA Radio did not go on air until 1948 and this book was in print one year earlier, in 1947!

Inside The Clue in the Crumbling Wall, Nancy comes across an abandoned and long forgotten button factory, precisely located on the Muskoka River.  As an indication, this buttonarium could possibly have been found in all of our proffered cities, simply because they are all located near shores of water which contain clams, mollusks, and whelks so intrepidly described in this book.  Impliedly, this means that these cities may have actually had a neglected button factory nearby.  Searching for something so dilapidated in this present day would indeed be tedious.

By contrast, though, it should be included that historically the Muscatine River region in Iowa was one of the largest pearl button producers up to the later 1920s, once prominently known as The Button Capital of the World!  Unfortunately, the river region lost this eminence with the introduction of metal and plastic buttons.  Incidentally, the Muscatine River is extremely close to Iowa City and in the past, known to have these exact classes of derelict buildings during the era of Mildred Bensons residency in Iowa.  Rightly, to request attention of this vital congruence is significant.

Have we confirmed the position of River Heights?  Are we getting near to pinpointing this mystifying city?  Not quite, as there are more tables to inspect, and further, important hidden clues to uncover in those books.  As well, there are other pertinent details to look at, which could shed more illumination on its location.

Join in on the next segment of this astounding journey to River Heights, where we will examine charts of actual street names and distances traveled to real cities splendidly listed in our curious books.  Further, in part four of "Where is River Heights?" there will be more alluring revelations that will keep the inquiring sleuth spellbound and on the trail for more.