Garland Steele was a man of many interests and a long family history in Southwest Gwinnett. His influence on Norcross and Gwinnett County can still be seen. Garland Steele’s great-great-grandfather, John Steele, came to Gwinnett around 1820, farming near today’s Beaver Ruin Road, a few miles east of downtown Norcross. Garland’s grandfather, George Daniel Steele, served in the 12th Georgia Cavalry in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. George Daniel Steele’s daughter Lillian married Dr. John Peters in the 1890s, but after the couple divorced, she changed the name of their son Garland (born in 1899) to Garland Frederick Steele.
As a young man, he worked his way through Georgia Tech, graduating as a civil engineer in 1923. He bought a house at 170 North Peachtree Street in Norcross for his mother and family in 1928. “Mama Innie” lived in that house for many years. Steele eventually demolished the old home and built the 10-unit Steele Apartments, designed to include up-to-date amenities, including air conditioning. His mother lived in the apartments for the remainder of her life. She passed away in 1976, a few months shy of her 100th birthday.
Steele spent much of his career managing construction projects for the city of Atlanta, playing a major role in designing the downtown connector. He served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, with the rank of Lt. Colonel. While in the service, he helped prepare munitions for the D-Day invasion and then worked as chief engineer at Moore General Hospital, a facility for veterans near Asheville, N.C.
For a time, Steele owned a gold mine in the north Georgia mountains and a corn mill south of Atlanta, selling “Steele Mill” brand corn meal to retail grocers. He was an amateur (“ham”) radio operator, communicating with other amateur operators around the world. He and his sons built a 33-foot, 9-ton wooden motorboat in the backyard of his home in the Atlanta area and transported it to Savannah to test its seaworthiness.
Garland Steele was married four times. His first marriage ended in divorce, and he outlived his second and third wives. Two of his three children graduated from Norcross High School, and the family continues to live in the area today. Garland Steele died in 1995.