People often struggle to find their passion in life. As just a child, Joseph Cavaccini discovered his.
The Wappinger native became captivated by local history—sparked by his connection to an old family photo. Joseph willingly strayed from life as a ‘typical’ child, choosing to pursue interests such as community growth and historical restoration.
Joseph’s love for history and community ultimately gained him a position within the Office of the Town Historian for the Town of Wappinger at just 12 years old, making him the youngest person to be appointed to a post within a municipal historian’s office in New York State.
As just a freshman in college, Joseph currently serves as the Town of Wappinger Town Historian, the Town of Fishkill Town Historian, the curator of the Sports Museum of Dutchess County, Town of Wappinger Recreation Committee Member, Wappingers Historical Society junior trustee, Fishkill Historical Society board member, executive director of the Friends of Carnwath Farms Historic Site & Park Inc., and trustee member of the Grinnell Public Library District—making Joseph the youngest elected official in New York at 18 years old.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING—“What really got me intrigued [with history] was an old family photo from about the 1930s. It said my two cousins were hunting in a place called Swardoutville,” Joseph said. “I thought that personal connection from that photograph in my family to this neighborhood 100 years later was really interesting.”
Swardoutville was a forgotten Wappinger hamlet which was an important meeting place for generals during the Revolutionary War. Joseph was determined to change this.
"I have turned from this town novelty—being a young kid—into someone who has gained their respect. I hope to continue with that."
At 12 years old, Joseph approached the Town of Wappinger town board. Through Joseph, the town board would endorse a project which placed signs acknowledging the hamlet at its entrances. Joseph’s unmistakable passion for historical restoration earned him the position of town historian.
“I can still remember walking across the street from my junior high school with my briefcase over to the town hall,” he said. Joseph’s responsibilities as a 12 year old quickly grew, but he managed to find time with his friends.
“I would go back to my friends and say, ‘look at all this stuff I learned,’ and they would tell me to shut up,” he laughed. “They still do, but it’s more accepted now for me to start spitting out facts about the town.” Joseph continued making connections to people in the historical community, entering positions and initiating projects for the preservation and promotion of local history.
CARNWATH FARMS—Carnwath Farms is a 99-acre estate and Town of Wappinger park. The site is home to its 1850 pre-restoration mansion, Carnwath Manor; 1873 Carriage House, a 1927 Cottage, Frances Reese Cultural Center, Carnwath Chapel, and several hiking and walking trails.
Joseph recognized this prime location for recreation, culture and history to be in desperate need of renovation. Despite some initial bureaucratic resistance, he was able to plan some progressive changes.
In 2015, Joseph helped create the Friends of Carnwath Farms Historic Site & Park INC., a non-for-profit organization which would “ensure the restoration and rehabilitation of Carnwath Farms Park” in the hope that this park can “once again be the gem of the Hudson Valley.”
Joseph has immersed himself in countless positions and projects, but no project is more memorable than the renovation of the Dutchess County Sports Museum, located within the Frances Reese Cultural Center at Carnwath Farms.
He was appointed as the museum’s curator at 15 years old. It was in terrible shape at the time of his appointment and was suffering from an extreme lack of attendance.
Joseph helped launch the largest renovation project in the museum’s history, completely gutting the building and creating an entirely new exhibition known as the “Legends of Dutchess,” highlighting professional athletes from Dutchess County.
“I’ve completed a lot of other projects, but because I did that project with my dad it was very special,” he said.
Joseph’s father volunteered his time on the project—forming a bond and a memory through the shared construction and passion for their community.
HARDSHIPS—Joseph has experienced tremendous challenges in the pursuit of his passion specifically related to his young age—having to prove himself to associates who constantly doubted his knowledge or authority and resisted his pursuit for change.
“I’m not just some random kid that thinks he knows what he’s doing,” said Joseph. “I do know what I’m doing, and I’ve proved that time and time again.”
“I’ve had to fight at times for myself and what’s best for the town. It hasn’t all been great,” he continued. “I just had to continue to prove myself to the community and show that I do good work and I’m doing it for the best interest of the town.”
Joseph faced constant threats from town officials when he was younger, saying that his position would be taken away if he refused to follow their commands. As a young boy Joseph debated quitting under the pressure, but he ultimately carried on, standing up for himself and his beliefs.
“At times when I was younger I definitely didn’t think it was worth it anymore. There were a lot of different roadblocks,” he said. “Fortunately, I had great people standing behind me—my parents, my friends, the community - they ended up giving me the strength and the determination to move forward and to keep fighting the fight.”
Joseph Cavaccini has had a passion for history and community from a young age. At 12 years old, Joseph approached the Town of Wappinger town board to recognize a forgotten hamlet known as Swardoutville—a place which was recognized by Joseph in an old family photo. His passion and love for history earning him a position within the Office of the Town Historian, making him the youngest person to be appointed to a post within a municipal historian's office in New York. Joseph just began his freshman year of college, but he holds eight different positions throughout Dutchess County including a trustee member of the Grinnell Public Library District—making him the youngest elected official in New York, at 18 years old.
“It’s unfortunate, because what I’m trying to do, and what a lot of other young people are trying to do, is make an impact, make a difference, and improve the communities that we live in,” he continued. “A lot of people see that as a threat to their power.”
Joseph has proven his worth, gaining considerable support from the community and the current administration.
“I’m definitely not leaving...I love this town,” said Joseph. “I have a great passion for all things Wappinger.”
“I’ve turned from this town novelty—being a young kid—into someone who has gained their respect,” he added. “I hope to continue with that.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME—Joseph is infatuated with his community and its history. However, he ultimately yearns to have members and visitors of this community appreciate it as well.
“My end goal is to build a community pride, because that’s something I feel is lacking,” he said. “I want to see people that are proud of the town that they live in...that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“People should feel connected to the town that they live in,” he added. “It should be a place where you love to live—where you have passion and community pride. I feel that history definitely plays a key role in that.”
Joseph has noticed Hudson Valley teens are often eager to leave, becoming bored of “the same old things.” Joseph has been able to change that mentality in many of his friends through his passion and advocacy for the area.
“When they went away to college and came back, they said ‘You know Joey you were right, there’s nothing like the Hudson Valley,’” he said. “I feel good for doing that. I wasn’t trying to get everyone to stay in Wappinger for their entire life, I just wanted them to have an appreciation for it. I think I accomplished that.”
NOT A DAY OF WORK—Joseph has discovered his passion, pursuing not a career, but his dream.
“Working with the different organizations I’m a part of, operating tours at the historic sites we have, meeting with the residents, getting projects done—I love all of it.”
Each of Joseph’s positions and milestones has allowed him to continue his accomplishments and grow his sphere of influence. Through all of his success, he has remained incredibly humble and appreciative.
“It’s just an honor to hold these positions, and that people continue to allow me to live my dream,” said Joseph. “I love what I do—it’s not about the recognition or about building the resume. Ultimately it’s about what’s best for the residents.”