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Downtown Newport Rhode Island Walking Tour
Item 8 of 15

The Touro Synagogue (not to be confused with the synagogue of the same name in New Orleans) is the oldest synagogue still standing in the United States, North America, and the only one surviving from the Colonial Era. It was built in 1763 and designed by architect Peter Harrison who, interestingly, was not Jewish; he was, however, one of the best architects of the time. Today, the building continues to function as a synagogue and is operated by the Touro Synagogue Foundation. The foundation also maintains a nearby visitor's center which contains various exhibits that explore the history of the building and the Jewish community in Newport, and other related topics. The synagogue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a U.S. National Historic Site.


  • The Touro Synagogue was built in 1763.

The synagogue was built for the Jeshuat Israel congregation, which formed in 1658. Its founding fifteen members were of Spanish and Portuguese descent and arrived from what is now Barbados. The synagogue is named after its first Cantor, Isaac Touro. The American Revolution took its toll on the synagogue and the congregation. The British occupied Newport and used the building as a hospital. By the War of 1812, the synagogue closed and its families moved to other nearby cities like New York. 

The families did not forget the synagogue, however. Judah Touro and his brother Abraham, the sons of Isaac, both bequeathed funds to support the upkeep of the synagogue. The influx of Eastern European Jews to Newport during the late 1800s breathed new life into the synagogue, which was reopened in the early 1880s. It was declared a National Historic Site in 1946 and placed on the National Register in 1966.

"History." http://www.tourosynagogue.org/history-learning/synagogue-history. Accessed June 16, 2015.

Rebekah Tosado & Dwight T. Pitcaithlev. "Touro Synagogue National Historic Site." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.  https://npgallery.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/nrhp/text/66000927.PDF.