As a federal historian I thought it might be helpful to uncover at least a little bit of information from the perspective of military engineers in the area. Some of it is conjecture, but based on what might be very probable.
From what I know about the barge, and what I know about military floating plants, there are a few things that are pretty likely, but they’d need to be confirmed by someone a lot more familiar with the barge than me.
What’s in a name?
First, it’s interesting that the old barge was associated with a family of the surname “Totten.”
There’s a heritage of Tottens and military engineering – several went to West Point and that legacy continued for quite a while.
Joseph Totten was a Chief Engineer and he and his relatives that served would’ve had advanced knowledge and disposal of Army pontons and other floating plants.
If there’s any association at all with the engineer Tottens and the camp Tottens, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me that they could’ve designed, built, or acquired some kind of army barge or knock-off.
Or, it could be a complete coincidence. That’s the fun of a historical mystery!
Barges in general
The current barge is likely what’s referred to technically as Navy Lighterage (NL).
NL was developed prior to WWII and put into heavy use during that war, Korea, and Vietnam. Today the Navy has new lighterage called INLS (Improved Navy Lighterage System).
The stuff from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam was practically all the same. They were barges made up of standardized cubes that could be arranged in various widths and lengths and could be outfitted with different accessories to be used for myriad functions (most were used for harbors, causeways, or motorized barges).
Almost all NL was built from 5′ x 7′ boxes, so if the barge at Camp Alleghany is the same, then it’s pretty likely an NL barge from WWII or Korea.
After the war, there were thousands of these boxes leftover and the Navy encouraged them to be used for civilian purposes. It’s highly plausible that someone could’ve ordered an NL barge of specific dimensions (the one at Camp might be 4 boxes x 3 boxes or something) with the added “Inshore causeway extensions” or the P-4 “ramp ends” on either end that provide the vehicle ramps.
The Camp barge likely wasn’t used as a ferry in WWII or Korea as those were usually made of actual Army pontons sections.
“Ponton” and “pontoon” are technically 2 different things, at least in our eyes.
The pontoon is the standardized metal box that floats and a ponton is an actual boat used to construct floating bridges. Segments of these floating bridges could be used to ferry vehicles. But given that they were usually required to float armor, and given these inland operations were usually carried out by the Army and Army Engineers, it’s much more common to see heavier Army floating plant being used for river crossings.
And, the Army typically used real pontons for bridging and ferrying.
Want to learn more?
There are good explanations of floating plant and uses here, starting on Page 7. You can also see on that site that NL, if used, was used for maintenance operations, pile driving, and crane operations.
I suppose it’s possible the barge itself as it is now was used as a ferry somewhere, but I’ve never seen an image or heard of an application of NL being used to transport military craft or personnel like that.
Anyway, this might be interesting information to folks curious about Alleghany’s history, and what I know is considered the magic of the barge in particular. I bet there are a few dad’s and grandpa’s out there, or military folks, who might get quite a kick out of this nugget of history.
–J. T., Friend of Camp Alleghany for Girls