Barnes Hall started life as the dormitory wing of the new Student Union, known then as Keeler Union, which is now Powers Hall. Grounbreaking for the new student union occurred on October 31, 1938 when President Warriner turned the first shovel of earth. The building was funded through a Public Works Administration Grant, one of the programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. The architect was C. William Palmer of Detroit. The cornerstone was laid in February 1939.
The dorm wing opened in September of 1939, but the Union section was not ready until November. Despite the fact that it was the first and only men's dormitory on campus, its 90 beds remained partially empty that first year. It was difficult for the college to convince men who were used to living off campus to move in and conform to the myriad regulations of dorm life. For those who did move in, room and board was $45 per semester.
Like Ronan Hall, portions of this building were turned over to Navy V-12 cadets during World War II. These cadets, who exceeded the original capacity of the building by housing 125 people, remained from 1942 until the program ended on July 1, 1944. During this time, the hall was also used as a rallying point for the Red Cross. In November of 1944, the hall was turned over to women residents for the first time. They remained until after the end of the war, and the male residents returned in March of 1946. As enrollment soared after World War II housing students became a major problem. In 1949, Keeler was at double capacity with 180 residents.
In 1951, a new residence hall wing was added. This was designed by Roger Allen and Associates of Grand Rapids, the architect responsible for many of the buildings on CMU's campus. On October 25, 1952, the entire residence hall area was renamed Charles C. Barnes Hall, thus ending that section's connection with Keeler. A third and final wing was added in 1957, known as the "new section." This wing contained rooms with individual bathrooms instead of the community baths in the other sections.
Charles C. Barnes was born in Leslie, MI, on August 7, 1886. He graduated from the local school system and spent four years teaching before going to the Ferris Institute in Big Rapids. In 1911, he received a finance and commerce degree. That same year, on June 10, he married Josephine Clickner.
In 1912, he became a faculty member of Ferris and served as principal of the school of business until 1920, when he resigned to become the assistant treasurer of a Detroit life insurance company. Unenthused with this decision, he soon reentered the education system when the president of Central, E. C. Warriner, offered him a post as head of the commerce department in September of 1920. The following year, Barns was promoted to Registrar and made the first dean of men.
In addition to these responsibilities, the new dean sought to continue his own education as well. He earned an A.B. degree from Central in 1925 and an A.M. degree from the University of Michigan in 1932.
A heart condition forced him to retire in July of 1946 and also caused his death on December 17, 1950. He was survived by his wife Josephine and their two daughters.