Want to learn something new about Loudoun? Take a look at one of Eugene Scheel’s maps.
Scheel has been Loudoun’s mapmaker for nearly 50 years. His unique hand-drawn maps, full of charming illustrations and sometimes obscure—but always fascinating—historical information have helped Loudouners and visitors understand the region and its past for decades. And his goal is always to put something new on the map.
“I do odd jobs in the field of history,” Scheel said with a laugh. “I’m always looking for something that nobody else has done. … I think every one of my maps contains something that if I hadn’t done that map, it would never have been known.”
Scheel’s newest map spotlights pre-colonial American Indian settlements in Loudoun with some surprising twists. Scheel will discuss that map and the history of American Indians in Loudoun at a talk for the Short Hill Historical Society Sunday, July 21.
Scheel launched his cartography business in 1972 with a map of Loudoun that ditched the ubiquitous rural route numbers on road maps of the day and returned to the county’s colorful historic road names. Since then, he’s covered everything from Civil War battles to mining sites in the region with detailed maps focused on different historical perspectives.
For Scheel, mapmaking is as much about conversations as it is about drawing. Spending time in the field, getting a feel for the lay of the land and drawing valuable oral histories out of residents are key.
“I’m always interested in where things are. I want to step on it,” Scheel said. “Eighty percent of the map is going out, driving around talking to people and research. Twenty percent is drawing.”
Scheel recalls locating and documenting the vanished cemetery in the Morrisonville community near Lovettsville a few years ago by canvassing the area with several residents in their 90s.
“We drove around in my pickup, and I let them talk,” he said.
Scheel, 83, grew up in New York during World War II, and mapmaking has been a part of his life since childhood when he created new worlds at home as he followed the war across the Atlantic.
“Maps were on the front pages of all the newspapers then,” he said. “I would doodle imaginary countries and islands.”
As a high school student and an aspiring cartographer in the early 1950s, Scheel wrote to legendary journalist Gilbert Grosvenor, the founder ofNational Geographicmagazine, on a whim for suggestions on an educational and career track. To Scheel’s surprise, Grosvenor took the time to write back and recommended Clark University in Worcester, MA, nationally knownfor its geography program. Scheel followed his advice and earned a geography degree from Clark before joining the U.S. Marine Corps. After his military service, Scheel found himself back in the states and looking for a job. He wrote another letter to Grosvenor, landed an interview in DC and started a job withNational Geographicin 1960.
Scheel wound up in Waterford thanks to his friend Wellman Chamberlin, chief cartographer at National Geographic, who lived in the village. Scheel married his wife, Annette, in 1966 and Waterford was a perfect midway point between his job in the District and Annette’s job as a social worker in Winchester. The couple rented a house in the village and then bought a fixer-upper historic home nearby where they raised two daughters.
Scheel left the magazine in the early ’70s and went on to a series of consulting jobs in the field of urban planning while launching his own mapmaking business. Things kicked off in 1972 whenthe Loudoun’s Board of Realtors commissioned a map that would go beyond the standard utilitarian road maps in terms of esthetics and replace confusing route numbers with charming historic road names. Word began to spread, and commissions from other jurisdictions and organizations began to flow in.
Scheel says his most popular work remains a 1990s commission focused on sites related to the Confederate Army commander John Singleton Mosby covering parts of Loudoun, Fauquier and Clarke counties and full of drawings of historic buildings in the Mosby Heritage Area. “It’s a very pretty map,” Scheel said.
Some other personal favorites include a Potomac River map from Leesburg to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland and African American history map of Prince William County. Last year, Scheel put together a detailed map of the Short Hill section of the Blue Ridge in the wake of AT&T’s controversial application to build a large industrial facility on the mountain.
His latest American Indian history map has its roots in research Scheel did decades ago at the former Loudoun Archaeology Center run by anthropologists Bill and Randi Rust at what is now the Rust Sanctuary.
Scheel’s research details Algonkian farming communities in what is now eastern Loudoun and nomadic Sioux communities in much of western Loudoun before the tribe was driven out by Susquehannock Indians in 1670. American Indians were pushed out of Loudoun entirely by European settlers by 1722 when the Treaty of Albany forced them to move west of the Blue Ridge.
Loudoun’s American Indian history also is a part of the Loudoun County history class Scheel teaches each year for teachers in Loudoun County Public schools, and educators visit caves on the county’s still-wild northern edge that housed some of the area’s earliest inhabitants.
Scheel wrote a regular column for theWashington Postfor years and has written several books on local history. He has also served as the Catoctin District planning commissioner since 2012. For decades, his mapmaking shop on Waterford’s Second Street was a familiar sight for locals and visitors. That shop is now rented out to another local business and Scheel works from his home studio west of the village. But Scheel takes over the shop from his tenant every first weekend in October for the annual Waterford Fair where tourists and locals can buy maps old and new.
Eugene Scheel shares insights on the history of American Indians in Loudoun County Sunday, July 21 at 2 p.m. at theBetween the Hills Community Center, 11762 Harpers Ferry Road near Hillsboro as part of the Short Hill Historical Society’s History Talks, Trips and Treasures series. Requested donation is $5. Scheel will also be selling copies of his new American Indian map, along with his Civil War and Short Hill maps.