All About River Heights
The River Heights Airfield
"LOOK HERE!" he proposed suddenly. "I'm going to Mapleton my homes there. I'll keep close behind your car and push if necessary. "(The Clue in the Diary, Pg.16, RT) Easily misinterpreted by only a handful, is that Ned Nickersons hometown of Mapleton might be home to Emerson College if one is not careful in reading the Nancy Drew series. In the aforementioned book, in both the original and revised texts, it is difficult to trace Nancys drive to Mapleton since she makes stops at other places along the way and encounters detours as well, but the idea that one concludes, is that it does not take long to reach Mapleton from River Heights in this and other books.
What catches the attention is the actuality that in the original texts of the classic series, Mapleton and Emerson function almost hand in hand at every turn where the college is concerned. These books seem to give the intuition that Mapleton and Emerson are the same, or if not, extremely near to one another, though never specifically stated a propos. Similarly, Ned attends Emerson College and lives there too at the Omega Chi Epsilon fraternity house, as stated in a later text! An attentive sleuth will notice Mapleton and Emerson barely ever mentioned together in the later volumes. Conversely, it is indubitably apparent how separately kept from one another these cities are, in the revised and later text of the series.


Certainly there are inconsistencies with reference to the distance that our amateur sleuth travels to either one of these cities. However, keen ND Sleuths have conceivably indicated, that traveling times would have been different in the past with unpaved roads and slower vehicles, according the differences that link the originals to the later texts.  Keep in mind that all the times mentioned in this report are only estimations, since there is never any coinciding precise times or distances presented in any of those peculiar books! Speaking of where "Emersonians" live, there are many occasions of our titian-haired sleuth attending football games at Emerson College and as well calling on her special friend there. We know that Emerson is in a northeasterly direction from River Heights, as found on page 18 in Mystery of the Glowing Eye (1974).

The Spider Sapphire Mystery

Several precise clues about Emerson, which parenthetically beg to slap our faces, are from The Spider Sapphire Mystery (1968).  One of them, found on page 21 has her motherly housekeeper Hannah Gruen telling Nancy that "it is a long drive to Emerson." The girl sleuth starts her journey at just before six AM from her home, and does not reach Emerson until noon, six hours later, where she and her chums check into the Longview Motel. The young detectives did not dawdle for one of their well-known lunching experiences, or we could have taken off an extra hour here. This issue, though outwardly innocuous at first, further complicates this rather contradictory case, since this book is from the later texts of the classic series, and makes the distance greater on the road to Emerson!

In 1968, many automobiles were already capable to tour more than sixty miles per hour and additionally, there were more paved roads to traverse all across the country, than say back in 1932 as compared to the first printing of The Clue in the Diary.  At that time (1968) many places within the Midwest and Western United States still had numerous road signs that read "DRIVE AT YOUR OWN RISK," which meant you could do whatever speed you were capable of driving, mainly on open roads between cities.  For the purpose of justification, here we will put Nancy traveling at 55-60 mph, considering especially that the lead-footed sleuth valued to drive as fast as the law would allow.  At 60 miles per hour times 6 hours traveled (60 x 6), this will equally place Emerson approximately 360 miles northeast of River Heights!

Another magnificent clue granted by the athletic and intellectual Nickerson is evidence that offers influence of authentication about Emersons proper location, which by and by, is in the same state as River Heights.  The reader, who in a hurry to solve this exciting mystery, would probably unintentionally bypass this next crucial clue.  Ned figures out a specific latitude and longitude by means of a mountain, which is near where he is captive, that as well, is close by Emerson.  "Its where we go skiing sometimes." (The Spider Sapphire Mystery, pg. 43)  Written in code for Nancy and her sleuthing friends to decipher are the numbers 4182, which the clever girl detective almost immediately decodes.

If one were to look on any map of the US for the locations of the longitude 41 and the latitude 82, one would effectively have their finger pointing near to Columbus, Ohio, which are the indicators for the identifiable location of Emerson. Given that our chosen Ohio cities are north of Columbus (Emerson), this carefully throws our two babies out the window with the bath water so to speak, as this then places Emerson in one of the Great Lakes, if located NE from whichever of our River Heights.  With this reasoning so far, Harriet Stratemeyers The Spider Sapphire Mystery splendidly helps in keeping the location of River Heights in our now eminent Ohio state!

On the contrary however, if you trace 360 miles to the southwest of Columbus (Emerson), in the opposite direction BACK to River Heights, this will place Nancys fictional city illogically positioned somewhere in the state of Kentucky! Even reducing the speed Nancy travels to 55 or 50 mph, the results would still be quite close to the same, 330 miles and 300 miles respectively. Only now can we justly appreciate how difficult it is- in fact, close to impossible-- to locate River Heights, merely by the approximate times, directions, and distances presented in those carefree manuscripts!

At last, we can garner an admiring glance at a graphically rendered, partial map of the United States that proposes a more enhanced impression about the states and cities considered in this composition.  All the city names elected for this mystery are in red, and additionally have red lines drawn indicating their placement.  The cities displayed in blue are "destination cities" since we know very well that Nancy travels to these out-of-state locales in the books.  Though not precisely accurate, this map offers a better understanding of the locations of these states and cities, as well their relationship to one another.

partial US map
Partial map of The United States

We will also use the information in Table 6 in conjunction with this map.  This table also upholds our elected cities in red and the destination cities in blue, while further revealing the distances in miles between all of the cities shown in the partial map, with the exception of Miami, Florida, while it is relatively unclear whether Nancy Drew actually landed at the airport there in Mystery of Crocodile Island.  Some of the books will only have the state listed and not an actual city therefore; only a few of the mysteries that bring to light specific real cities are in this table.  Further, in some of the thrillers, Nancy goes to other actual true cities, although she is already in those states before she travels to these actual cities, as a result we will not altogether discuss these cities as well, since the girl detective is not actually traveling from River Heights to them.  Moreover, not categorized are the destination cities in the order that they appear in our books, but are in alphabetical order, intended for trouble-free ease of perspicacity for the curious sleuth.  Finally, with all the above prerequisites we can now go on to gaze at the first city listed in Table 6.


BOSTON-The Secret of the Wooden Lady (OT 1950) has Nancy and her chums take off from the airfield in River Heights and arrive a few hours later in Boston.  A few hours then are very possible when you might consider that the aeroplanes back in 1950 were much slower than the airplanes of the 1960s, when commercial jetliners became more prolific. Most likely, they were traveling in a twin-engine aircraft. These engines were expectedly internal combustion or reciprocating engines and operated on gasoline and not jet fuel.

Airspeeds of these general aviation aircraft vary between 100 to 350 miles per hour. The introduction of reliable jet planes, such as the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8, in the late 1950s ushered in a new era in commercial aviation-the jet era. (8) Jet planes or subsonic airplanes have speeds that vary from 350 to 750 miles per hour. (9)

With the above information, it completely makes sense not to place River Heights in East Orange on this basis, because a flight in a twin-engine would be a shorter ride to Boston, Massachusetts from that location.  The longer an aircraft is flying, the more it becomes efficient and actually flies at a faster rate of speed.  This again would make the possibility of River Heights being in the west somewhere in Ohio, given that this information is from an original text volume, and that top airspeeds very well could have reached 300 mph or more! This allows a little over two hours of flight time from that location.

Awkwardly, a trip by twin-engine from Iowa or Illinois would surely be more than a "few" hours, and possibly would require a stopover somewhere, as this type air engine essentially uses larger quantities of fuel! Unfortunately, this clue is invalid since we cannot determine what a few hours later could possibly mean!  Future updates on this section will have information concerning the revised text of this book.

CAPE CANAVERAL (MELBOURNE)- Unable to determine at this time for need of The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion revised text. Future updates will have comprehensive data concerning this book. The original text of this title, first written as a completely different story, does not warrant research; in view of the fact that it is not readily apparent to the reader, whether Nancy leaves her home state on an outing to the fictional city of Ashley.

CHARLOTTESVILLE (RICHMOND)-Shortly after breakfast, Mr. Drew drove the girls to the airport in River Heights and they had a smooth flight to Richmond, Virginia (The Hidden Window Mystery pages 27& 28-RT.)  After visiting Nancys cousin Susan Carr at the Johnston Willis Hospital, they spent the rest of the afternoon and evening viewing the old city. (Pg. 31)

Notice the absence of a time, and only the sense of time in the words "shortly after breakfast." Nothing here gives us a clue to times traveled so these clues are unacceptable besides, from first when we try to introduce many excessive variables into this unusual quest to solve this one equation, we will not succeed! There is also the substance of the original text of The Hidden Window Mystery, which unfortunately at this time, the author does not have a copy to use for comparison.  Future updates will include this information as well.

CHICAGO-Nancy does not voyage to Chicago as many times as a sleuth would think.  In The Secret at Shadow Ranch (OT 1931) Nancy and her friends take a train to Chicago and the only description is that the "afternoon dragged slowly" as the reference of time.  Nevertheless, this allows us to understand that it simply takes a small portion of an afternoon to reach that city. This permits us to place River Heights near Chicago in Illinois, and then possibly Iowa or Ohio.  The revised text has the girls already in Phoenix, AZ so there is no necessity to expound on this book.

COOPERSTOWN-In, The Secret of Mirror Bay (1972) we know it is morning, as stated on page 4 and further, that the girls stopped for lunch at a wayside snake bar.  They were also "confronted with a long detour" and arrived in Cooperstown 20 minutes late!  Here again, we have allurements to precise times but it is apparent that this is designed to make us only believe we might be able to discern a proper point in time. Morning, lunch, long detour, and twenty minutes late, does not mean a thing if trying to find River Heights.  However, clearly there is a prearranged notion that they are traveling from the Midwest to Cooperstown, New York since this gives at the very least, five or six hours time by automobile to get there!  In passing, this one extract does relate to us, that the young sleuth is urging her car along with "all the speed the law allowed."

LANCASTER-The Witch Tree Symbol RT (1959) is lacking clarity as well in trying to conclude accurate times of travel.  "Several hours later the girls reached the area where the first hex signs appeared on barns." How indistinct can authors get without obviously including in the text, "You will never find River Heights this way!" Future updates will take account of data from the original text, first printed a mere four years earlier, in 1955.

NEW ORLEANS-Nancy and company take a flight to this southern city in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall (1967) revised text. This book explains that the girls leave River Heights in the morning, have lunch on the plane, and make a stopover to pick up more passengers somewhere, before finally landing in New Orleans.  This book does not bother to explain the landing in that city, just that "When they reached their hotel George scolded her cousin" as usual! Since there are no precise times, there is no way to even make estimations. We will discuss the original text later.

In The Haunted Showboat (1957) Nancy and her friends drive to New Orleans and decide to take back roads to as far as Tartanville, which presumably is in the same state as River Heights.  There are allusions of time, although so much transpires during this one trip that it is impracticable to find any correlations to match with accurate times traveled.  This is the most eventful journey the young sleuths ever embarks and with all the occurrencesbomb scares, detours, and numerous stops all along the way, including stops at hotels, a snow storm, mechanical failure of the car, etc. -- it took them a little more than two days to travel to New Orleans!

However, as an indication to a substantial clue, we will notice on page 38 that they reached Alabama, with its "blooming plants, green grass, and beautiful trees." If the three girls were traveling from Iowa or Illinois this would not make any sense.  This makes one want to question why they would veer off course to the east many miles, while it does make more sense to consider that they would have drove on a more southerly route to reach New Orleans from those locations and more than likely not pass through Alabama!

Not outdone we have added support, especially when the author is hospitable enough to offer us one more supplementary clue. We will discover the evidence on page 39 "as the girls drove through the Mobile area... " indicating they were driving in a more southwesterly direction, as New Orleans is hitherto farther southwest! This sign is even more striking if one appreciates the fact that Harriet Stratemeyer wrote this never-revised manuscript, and takes note that this outwardly treacherous route could just as effortlessly apply to New Jersey! Let us also not forget Table 2 "Cities Located near River Heights" where Wrightsville (Pg 20) has a match in Ohio and New Jersey.  This book merits additional investigation in future updates; as it appears there may be other hidden pointers in the descriptions, then presented here.

NEW YORK CITY- The Spider Sapphire Mystery pg. 54 tells us that it takes Nancy and her friends just one hour to arrive at Kennedy Airport in New York City, flying from the River Heights Airport. A jet plane with passengers on board flew 500 miles per hour average, even back in 1968 when this book was printed.  When taking off from the airport in River Heights, there must have been some time for the plane to taxi and to get to the runway, but while not mentioned, we will presuppose it just took one whole hour for the girls to get to New York.  Now for this to work using the flight formula above, we need to trace back from New York City only 500 miles for that one hour to find where River Heights is!

Five hundred miles to the west of New York City will place us approximately in the state of, you guessed it, Ohio, right near Columbus!  If correlating it with our special cities this will put River Heights near Toledo, Ohio. By looking in Table 6, we see that Toledo is 507 miles from New York City.  However, at top airspeeds (750 mph), we are within reach of Illinois with 719 miles, thus allowing River Heights to be in close proximity to Chicago! At least this extraordinary transcript is consistent in keeping River Heights in the Mid-west region.

The Clue of the Leaning Chimney OT (1949) does give us a little more enlightenment as to times traveled but is just as obscure in giving precise details. "In a few hours, the air liner circled for a landing at New Yorks big airport then came down." This book, written by ghostwriter George Waller, Jr.outline by Harriet Stratemeyer (10) has River Heights correlating with the Mid-west as well.  Not established at this time is where Mr. Waller lived while writing this book, therefore there is no real actual city to use for comparison. Nevertheless, it is engrossing how earlier noted in this essay; this volume interrelated with Mildred Bensons Iowa!

Actually, the revised text just about discloses the same identical information as the original text. Sneaking a look at The Clue of the Leaning Chimney RT (1967), we notice that revisionist/author Pricilla Baker-Carr (11) practically uses the same wording as the original, though slightly displaced. How clever the first author of this book was to deposit a time, before the time of departure, as this alludes to some appearance of an actual time, almost causing the reader to think there is a fact of time. This particular passage says, "Two hours later Nancy boarded a plane to New York."(Pg 72) Before or after this segment there is no mention of time of day, only that "luncheon was made particularly exciting by the young detectives tales of stolen potteries!"  "Two hours later"--before, and "luncheon"--after, tells us absolutely nothing that we can use to find River Heights in this case.

The Mystery at the Ski Jump OT (1952) gives more evidence to precise times, but again is a little less ambiguous than before.  Nancy takes an 8 oclock flight from River Heights to New York (Pg 59) and by noontime, rings the bell of her aunt Eloises apartment.  This is four hours and if we take one hour off for taxi rides and such, and as well time zone changes, we have left, approximately two hours.  We additionally notice the previous expected pattern here, somewhere in the Middle West! Revised text has the equivalent information available.

The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (1961) is extremely vague parting to us any details about the trip to New York. "The girls waved as they boarded the airliner, then settled down for the flight to New York.  When they reached the terminal in the city... " Let us not even go there in this case, as this demonstrates the expertise in disguise and fondness for elusive time descriptions! The same also applies to The Message in the Hollow Oak RT (1972) with the mention of "noon" and once at the River Heights airport to catch a plane to New York; Nancy is "By mid-afternoon entering her aunts apartment house."

We can observe drastically, the same configuration here in a more revised form! The Thirteenth Pearl (1979) on page 37; "When Nancy and her father reached the airport in New York on Thursday... " However let us not forgo the clue found on page 23 which insinuates that they are in Ohio with; "Even in Ohio... skeletons with pearls in their mouths were found... " where right before this segment Virginia is used only as an instance, and prior to that, there is a general statement about American Indians prizing pearls! This clue virtually gives the indication that the ghostwriter Harriet Stratemeyer, --along with other evidence established in the later text of the classic series; i.e. The Spider Sapphire Mystery-The Phantom of Pine Hill-The Thirteenth Pearl --made several attempts in keeping Ohio as the home state of River Heights!  The brilliant sleuth/author Karen Plunkett-Powell Scott (1954-2003) demonstrated this as well by the descriptions given in her book regarding the location of River Heights in The Nancy Drew Scrapbook, St. Martins Press, 1993!

SAINT LOUIS-The Message in the Hollow Oak RT (1972) clearly does not have Nancy living in Illinois.  She is excited about taking a trip to that state as acknowledged by reading this book.  In this instance, Bess and George, drive Nancy to an airport out of town that has a direct flight to St. Louis. This is one case in point where Nancy is in another city and not in River Heights; therefore, no slapdash guess as to where she might be.  Nevertheless, not to be passed-up are the clues that this flight must have taken some time when it is stated that Nancy was impatient to arrive in St. Louis with the duration, --(seeing as some passengers even had time to sleep,) but also allowed the sleuth enough time to take lunch in the planes galley!  This only leaves us with a more than likely Ohio and a very possible New Jersey scenario yet again, since Iowa City is too near to St. Louis to take that long of a stretch into account.

As is noted, there are excessive improbabilities about the location of River Heights, if one attempts to accord times and distances, traveled by Nancy.  The examples above obviously show that there is a marked pattern using indistinguishable plot devices to determine times traveled in these series.  At least all of our cities have been touched in one way or another, showing a connection by means of various methods.  Also, realize that these examples are not all inclusive of every single trip Nancy takes to other cities.  Most striking is the round about way that all the authors of the Nancy Drew books have kept River Heights somewhere in the Midwest, and reserved the fair city in a more central location to other true cities traveled to!

In the last leg of our journey to River Heights, we will look at a few of the books that seem to cause the booklover distress.  In the final segment Where is River Heights, part 6 we will see how some of those books changed the setting of River Heights all about and transport curious confusion as to the location of Nancys city!  We will also summarize the data presented here and tie up a few loose ends, and explicate which of our special cities most match River Heights.  

A special recognition to TheNancyDrewSleuths, on behalf of their remarkable assistance and support, in locating and pointing out data, which has been very helpful in the preparation for this article!

A special gratitude expressly to Lea Shangraw Fox for the utilization of her wonderful website Around the World with Nancy Drew Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Lea Shangraw Fox

(8.) Courtesy of the U. S. Centennial of Flight Commission

(9.) Courtesy of NASA Ultra-Efficient Engine Technology (UEET)-Glenn Research Center

(10-11.) By Courtesy and used with permission, by Jenn Fisher.  "The Nancy Drew Sleuth Unofficial Website"