Jupiter’s Historic Floating Hotels

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Have you ever heard about Jupiter, Florida’s floating hotels? Well, strap in for a journey back in time as we explore the intriguing past of these one-of-a-kind lodgings that floated along Jupiter’s waters. We’ll start from the humble beginnings on the sloop Steadfast, all the way to the majestic steamboat Chattahoochee, unraveling tales of historic floating hotels that offered guests some truly memorable stays by the water.

Maritime Legacy of Jupiter's Floating Hotels

The stories of the Steadfast, Chattahoochee, and Rockledge/Vaill’s Floating Hotel are more than just historical footnotes; they represent Jupiter’s innovative spirit and its early contributions to Florida’s tourism industry. These floating hotels offered guests unparalleled experiences, connecting them intimately with the area’s natural beauty and maritime culture. Today, while the physical vessels no longer grace the waters, their stories continue to float in the memories of history enthusiasts and serve as a testament to Jupiter’s rich heritage.

Let’s set the scene before we dive deeper into our historical journey. Picture Jupiter in the late 19th century: a thriving waterfront community where the Loxahatchee River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This spot was buzzing with activity, attracting travelers, merchants, and explorers. Against this beautiful backdrop, Florida’s resilient pioneers saw a golden opportunity to create something unique—turning boats into floating hotels. This brilliant idea led to a lodging experience unlike any other, blending adventure with comfort and subtly incorporating the burgeoning appeal of Florida fishing, setting the stage for what was to become a unique chapter in the state’s tourism narrative.
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse circa 1959
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse circa 1959, with water towers for the naval radio station and light station. (Courtesy of Ernest E. Hamilton).

The Steadfast: Jupiter's Pioneer Floating Hotel (1884-1887)

Our voyage begins with the Steadfast, a sloop repurposed into Jupiter’s first known rental lodging. Originally built for a federal survey of the Florida East Coast, this vessel found its second life as a floating hotel in the winter of 1884-1885, thanks to Ellsworth A. Hotchkiss.

The Steadfast offered a modest yet innovative accommodation option, attracting visitors with its unique charm. However, the emergence of more conventional lodgings like the Carlin House and advancements in steamboat hotels eventually rendered this quaint floating hotel obsolete. The sloop’s final chapter concluded with its sinking in the river.
Survey Sloop Steadfast Jupiter's first hotel
Survey Sloop Steadfast at St. Augustine in 1872 at the beginning of its long survey project. From a carte de visit by George Pierron.

The Chattahoochee: A Grand Floating Hotel (1888-1890)

Next, we anchor at the story of the Chattahoochee, a steamboat that marked a significant upgrade in floating hotel luxury in Jupiter. Built in Pittsburgh and initially serving on the St. Johns River, the Chattahoochee made its grand entrance to Jupiter in 1888.

With accommodations for up to 75 guests, it quickly became a sought-after lodging for travelers. Under the stewardship of Capt. John Fitzgerald, the Chattahoochee enjoyed several successful seasons before being sold in 1890 to once again haul passengers and freight. The Chattahoochee met its fiery end in Vicksburg in 1893. This floating hotel epitomized the blend of innovation and hospitality, setting a high standard for its successors.

the Chattahoochee early years
The Chattahoochee during its early years on the St. Johns River. (Florida State Archives)

Rockledge/Vaill's Floating Hotel: Jupiter's Final Floating Marvel (1890-1894)

Next, we anchor at the story of the Chattahoochee, a steamboat that marked a significant upgrade in floating hotel luxury in Jupiter. Built in Pittsburgh and initially serving on the St. Johns River, the Chattahoochee made its grand entrance to Jupiter in 1888.
the Rockledge Jupiter's Final Floating Marvel

William H. Rau stereoview inaccurately referring to the Rockledge as “The Only Hotel in Jupiter”

Moored at Jupiter’s bustling dock, the floating hotels offered luxurious accommodations and served as vibrant social hubs for the winter seasons, captivating guests with more than just their novelty. Among their most enticing features was the promise of ‘Best Fishing in Florida,’ with boats, fishing tackle, and bait readily available on board. This unique offering tapped into the burgeoning appeal of fishing as a major tourist draw, allowing guests the unparalleled experience of fishing directly from the hotel itself. As advertisements vividly pictured, these floating accommodations not only promised adventure and comfort but also the thrill of engaging in one of Florida’s most cherished pastimes.
Vaill's Floating Hotel ad in Tropical Sun

Ad for the Rockledge that ran in the Tropical Sun.

The legacy of the Rockledge, a notable example of these floating hotels, continued as it moved to other Florida cities, even being refloated and used as an entertainment venue, until its final days when it was scuttled off the Miami River in 1913, marking the end of a remarkable chapter in Florida’s tourism history.

The Legacy of Jupiter's Floating Hotels

The floating hotels of Jupiter, FL, hold a special place in the annals of local history, embodying a period of ingenuity and adventure. They remind us of a time when the waters of Jupiter were not just pathways for exploration but also innovative spaces for hospitality and community.
Let’s keep the spirit of adventure alive by exploring and appreciating the rich tapestry of history that Jupiter offers. Whether by land or by sea, the stories of the past continue to enchant and inspire us all.

FAQs About Jupiter's Historic Floating Hotels

Why did Jupiter have floating hotels?
Jupiter’s unique geographical location and bustling maritime activity made it an ideal spot for innovative lodging solutions like floating hotels, catering to travelers and adventurers of the time.
What happened to these floating hotels?
Over time, the evolution of more conventional and accessible accommodations, along with the physical deterioration of the vessels, led to the decline of floating hotels in Jupiter.
Can I visit any remnants of these floating hotels today?
While the original vessels are no longer in existence, visiting the Jupiter Inlet and the Loxahatchee River offers a glimpse into the setting where these unique accommodations once operated.