The structure that houses the Kelsey Museum was originally built as a home for the Students' Christian Association. Construction on this Richardsonian Romanesque building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the oldest buildings on the University of Michigan campus, began in 1888 and was completed in 1891. It was dedicated on July 21, 1891, and was named Newberry Hall after John S. Newberry, a railroad magnate whose widow Helen Newberry contributed $18,000 to the eventual $40,000 cost of construction.
In what is now the library of the Museum is a beautiful Tiffany window, one of two in Ann Arbor.
The Students' Christian Association was not officially affiliated with the University of Michigan, and in 1921 the organization leased Newberry Hall to the University for classroom space. In 1928 the archaeological collections were moved into the building. In 1937 Newberry Hall was finally sold to the University. In 1953 the Museum was officially named after Francis W. Kelsey, who founded the University's archaeological collections.
In 1993–94 the Museum, suffering from overcrowding of its staff and inadequate storage facilities for its artifacts, underwent the first of two significant renovations. A new third floor was added in the space formerly occupied by a choir loft left over from the building's days as a Christian association. Thanks to the generosity of donors Eugene and Emily Grant, this new addition contained a Sensitive Artifact Facility and Environment for climate-controlled collections storage, in addition to a new registry, conservation lab, and objects study area.
Then in 2003 a generous gift from Ed and Mary Meader of Kalamazoo funded construction of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing, added on to the back of the existing Newberry Hall. The Upjohn Wing provides over 20,000 feet of study, storage, and display space in a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled facility that now houses all of the Kelsey collections and, as of November 2009, presents a new installation of the Kelsey's permanent collection.