If you’ve ever traveled to Maggie Valley on a busy summer day and received a friendly greeting from a woman in a yellow bonnet and long red skirt, then you’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting Miss Maggie. If you’re not familiar with Miss Maggie, you may have been a little confused by her brightly colored old-fashioned attire, but if you are, then you know this is just an everyday occurrence in the valley. Miss Maggie has actually been greeting folks in Maggie Valley since the the 1980s and the tradition continues today. So as we begin to enter into the busy days of summer and Miss Maggie starts her seasonal stroll through the valley, I thought I’d share her story. But first, let’s start back at the beginning with where Maggie Valley got it’s name.
It has been recorded that Maggie Valley earned its name from a mountain girl with long blond hair and blue eyes who once called the area her home. Maggie’s true life story is recorded in the book Maggie of Maggie Valley, NC, written by her daughter Patty Pylant Kosier. In this book you will learn the story of Maggie Mae Setzer Pylant’s and her life in one of the early settlements of the Appalachian mountains.
In December of 1890, ten years after the birth of his daughter Maggie, her father, Jack Setzer began contemplating the formation of a post office closer to his own home. The nearest post office, the Plott post office, was located five miles from his home and someone had to be paid to run the mail in and out of the valley. Setzer began contacting officials with the US postal department in order to get permission to establish a new post office in his home that all the people in the valley could use.
For the next six months he was instructed to provide proof that the service was needed in the area so he began keeping careful records during that time. Jack submitted his records after six months and his application was accepted. But first, he had to come up with a name for the community in which the post office would be placed. Setzer’s first three submissions were rejected because they we already being used for other post offices in North Carolina. Following that, he submitted the names of his daughters Cora, Mettie and Maggie Mae plus the name Jonathan Creek, the creek which ran through the Setzer’s home. He did not tell his daughters that he had submitted their names.
On May 10, 1904, Jack received an official letter from the US Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock that the post office authorities had made their decision. The official name of the mountain settlement post office was to be Maggie, NC. Maggie, who did not know her name was submitted, was embarrassed when she was told the news. She burst into tears and ran up the mountain to the old log cabin where she had been born. But despite her reaction, the name remained and it eventually evolved into the name Maggie Valley. At the age of 17, Maggie became the bride of Ira Pylant of Nashville, TN. They moved to Texas, but she came back to her beloved valley several times before her death in 1979 at the age of 88.
So now that you know how Maggie Valley got its name, it’s time to share the story of Maggie Valley’s beloved mascot, Miss Maggie. In the early 1980s, a woman named Jennie Reninger moved to Maggie Valley after living an incredible life in Florida. She’d started working in the 1920s as a bookkeeper at a local newspaper and then earned wealth as a cattle farmer and real estate broker. In her 40s and 50s, Reninger traveled the world, going to 131 countries in 14 years, according to a 1985 newspaper story. But after all the traveling, Reninger decided to find a place to settle down so she chose Maggie Valley.
While in Maggie Valley, Reninger began taking walks through the town. She hated seeing trash on the sidewalks of such a pretty town so she carried a garbage bag with her. Not wanting to be known as a trash lady, Reninger walked early in the mornings and in the evenings to avoid notice. But people still saw her, and word got back to town hall that an older woman was walking around picking up garbage. The town named her the Goodwill Ambassador of Maggie Valley and soon gave her a uniform that looked like a traffic light. Now, Miss Maggie is the town’s symbol. Reninger died in 2002, and a plaque honoring her sits in front of town hall, right where today’s Miss Maggie starts her daily walks.
Over the years, various women in Maggie Valley have proudly donned the Miss Maggie uniform that consists of a long red skirt, green button down shirt, and a yellow apron and bonnet. They don’t walk in the winter, but they do make appearances at local functions all year long. When they’re in character, nobody dares call them by their actual names. They are simply addressed as “Miss Maggie”.
To this day, the symbol of Miss Maggie represents all that Maggie Valley has been, currently is, and will be in the future. Like Miss Maggie, it’s a colorful resort town that is proud of its Smoky Mountain roots and is ready to share of all the great things that await in this beautiful valley.