There has been one substantial fire in Neilson Library since it opened in 1909. On October 21, 1975, a fire that began just before 4 am in the Seelye Reading Room (now the Mair Reference Room) did $275,000 worth of damage to the collection and the building.
At the time of the fire the Seelye Reference Room had neither a smoke nor heat detector system. The floor, ceiling, and walls were scorched; tables, desks, bookshelves, and microfilm readers were destroyed. Approximately 1,000 of the 12,000 books in the room were consumed by fire; others were damaged by heat and smoke.
The Library was closed all day on October 21 to allow sufficient time for staff to organize the clean up and restoration operations. The building was re-opened the following day, October 22.
Neither Northampton’s Fire Chief nor the State Fire Marshal’s Office could determine the probable cause of the fire. Smith College’s Physical Plant Department’s final report on the event concluded that it may have been caused by a defective ballast in one of the fluorescent fixtures serving as a night or emergency light in the room.