Dr. Peers' Colfax home called "most wonderful'

By: Nancy Hagman, Special to the Colfax Record
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On South Main in historic Colfax, a lamppost is missing its plaque. According to Helen Wayland, Colfax Area Heritage Museum director, it had honored Dr. Robert Alway Peers. Despite the absent metal, this is his story. Born in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada in 1875 he graduated from Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Depending on which account you read, he arrived in Colfax in 1898 or 1899 and set up practice to replace Dr. Ware. He started out in a storeroom partition in one of the stores on Main Street, separated only by a piece of calico cloth purchased from Lobner’s general store. In 1907, Peers purchased the home on Auburn Street that still stands, just above the Verizon building. By 1911, he had remodeled it into the first hospital in Colfax, accommodating eight patients. In those days, there was an extremely deadly and contagious disease in the form of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a germ infection transmitted by inhalation or ingestion of tubercle bacilli and manifested in fever and small lesions – usually in the lungs but in various other parts of the body, including the brain and bones, in acute stages. Peers became one of the leading pioneers in the successful treatment of this malady. Several years prior to Colfax becoming a city, Peers gave a presentation to an association of railroad physicians meeting in San Francisco. There he outlined his treatment plan of putting patients in an alternative environment with less stress, which included good climate and a healthy diet. He also called for a government that would set and enforce health codes and create an infrastructure of sanitary surroundings, vis-à-vis sewer systems. Peers was instrumental in the incorporation of Colfax, in 1910, so he could set the foundation for his healing centers. In January 1913, according to the Colfax Record, Peers was in Sacramento lobbying for tuberculosis-related legislation. In 1914 he served on the California Tuberculosis Commission and in 1915 was appointed to the state board of health by Gov. Hiram Johnson. He served in that capacity for 17 years. Volunteering his services to the Red Cross during World War I, Peers was appointed assistant chief to the Bureau of Tuberculosis in Paris. He oversaw the operation of seven hospitals in southern France. Back in Colfax after the war, he continued his work. He opened several colonies and hospitals, including the Weimar Joint Sanatorium in 1919, a facility serving 15 counties. By 1927 the Colfax School for the Tuberculous – as he preferred to call it – was the largest private TB group under one supervisor in America. In addition to his medical practice, Peers was mayor of Colfax from 1922-1945. He was also president of the Placer Union High School District board and affiliated with several lodges. In the early '20s, Peers purchased land and had what the Record called the “most wonderful home in Superior California” built, It sits on a hilltop just north of downtown and was designed by Bernard Maybeck, a famous San Francisco architect. The house is now owned and occupied by the Dave and Stephanie Gard family, who also owns Winner Chevrolet. Peers and his wife, Lucy Fitzgerald Peers (1873-1960), retired in 1951 and moved to Palo Alto. Dr. Peers died Jan. 31, 1970 at the age of 94. He received worldwide recognition for his work toward removing TB from the list of fatal diseases. He was a diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine, also a fellow of the American College of Physicians and of the American Medical Association.