There had been a Seattle campaign to persuade the steel magnate and library philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to fund the Seattle library, but Carnegie had declined in 1899 because in his considered opinion Seattle was nothing more than a "hot air boom town."
Hot Air Boom Town Lucks Out
The New Year's Day fire along with Seattle's promise to contribute a site (the block bounded by 4th and 5th avenues and by Madison and Spring streets) plus $50,000 annually for maintenance turned Carnegie around. Five days after the fire, he promised $200,000 for a new central library building. He later contributed another $20,000 for furnishings.
Under these circumstances, certain loyal supporters of the library, particularly City Librarian Charles Wesley Smith, came under suspicion of arson. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer speculated:
"Now, we suspect that the man who had the strongest motive for a new library building has created the situation which brought about this gift. Mr. Smith, the librarian, has been complaining about his narrow quarters for a year. All the rest of us who have been in correspondence with Mr. Carnegie can prove an alibi. But Mr. Smith was certainly at the fire a few minutes after it started and it is a fair presumption that he was there a few minutes before" (quoted in Anderson, 9).
The question of who or what started the fire was never settled.