Charles Francis Himes was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on June 2, 1838 to William D. and Magdalen Lanius Himes. He attended the New Oxford Collegiate and Medical Institute in Adams County, Pennsylvania, before entering Dickinson College in the spring of 1853 as a sophomore. He was a founding member of the College's Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. After graduating in 1855, Himes taught mathematics and natural sciences at the Wyoming Conference Academy in Wayne County, Pennsylvania. A year later he moved to the Midwest to teach at public schools in Missouri and Illinois, but shortly thereafter returned to the east to accept a position at the Baltimore Female College.
In 1860, he was appointed professor of mathematics at Troy University in Troy, New York, teaching there for three years. Himes enrolled at the University of Giessen in the Hanover region of Germany in 1863, earning his Ph.D. after two years of study. Upon his return to the United States, he was named professor of natural science at Dickinson College, a position which he would hold for three decades.
During his long tenure at Dickinson, Himes was instrumental in expanding the science curriculum and in arranging the construction of a new building dedicated to the science departments, the Jacob Tome Scientific Building, completed in 1885. He also helped to establish a Scientific Society for the students in 1867. He was secretary and treasurer for the Board of Trustees from 1868 until his retirement in 1896, and also served as acting college president during the academic year 1888-1889. In addition, Himes authored the first narrative history of the institution, A Sketch of Dickinson College, in 1879.
He was a member of the Hamilton Library Association and the Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle, serving as president for a time. He was an honorary member of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, lecturing there on a regular basis, and was also a member of the American Philosophical Society and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Beginning in 1901, he was president of the Pennsylvania German Society, an organization with which he had been actively involved since 1897. An avid traveller, Himes made numerous extended trips to Europe throughout his life.
Beginning in 1858, he developed a life-long interest in photography, studying and teaching the techniques of this evolving form of popular art and science. He published a work titled Leaf Prints: or Glimpses at Photography in 1868, an early exposition of some of his work, and in 1884 he began teaching photography during summer programs at Mountain Lake Park, Maryland. He shared his work and knowledge with other amateur photographers through various associations, becoming a member of the Pennsylvania Photographic Society in 1860, the Amateur Photographic Exchange Club in 1861, and, later in life, pursuing photographic efforts through the Hamilton Library Association.
Charles Francis Himes married Mary Elizabeth Murray on January 2, 1868. The couple had two daughters, Mary Murray (Mrs. Thomas Eyster Vale), born in December 1868, and Anna Magdalen (Mrs. George Valentine Metzel), born in March 1880; both of the Himes daughters attended Dickinson for a time. Charles Francis Himes died at age 88 at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore on December 6, 1918. His wife, Mary Elizabeth Murray, preceded him in death on December 3, 1904 while visiting relatives in Owaneco, Illinois.