About Touro Synagogue
By 1759 the Jews of Newport decided to build a synagogue. They hired Isaac Touro to be their rabbi. They asked Peter Harrison, a wealthy immigrant from England, to design the building. Peter Harrison had already designed Newport's Redwood Library. Several members of the Jewish community were active in the library. It took four years to build. A fund raising campaign was undertaken. Various gifts were received including a clock (every synagogue should have one!), four smaller chandeliers, six tall candle sticks and two charity boxes. The charity boxes came from England with a note saying, '"This is all we can afford to give."
The building is made from brick, which was imported from England. The first part to be completed was the wing, where there was a school. The building is a little higher than ground level so there is a grand covered entry, which has painted wooden columns.. Sand is mixed into the paint, giving the feel of stone. This was a Peter Harrison trademark, and the exterior columns have the same sandy texture. The large chandelier in the center is unique. It has four heads in the center. The smaller chandeliers and the candlesticks have the names of the donors on them. Harrison also designed Brick Market in Newport, Christ Church in Boston and King's Chapel in Cambridge. Harrison eventually moved to New Haven. He was loyal to Britain, and his house was burned, including one of the largest libraries in colonial America.
The second floor balcony is supported by 12 columns made from solid tree trunks.
The original wall with the ark was plain. That wall was remodeled in about 1820. At that time the painting over the ark was commissioned. The cost was $10.
The interior is plain. The dominant feature is the large windows and the light they supply.
When Touro Synagogue was built, the laws did not allow the congregaation to purchase land and build a building, so there members filed the paperwork. Whe the last one died, he left the building in the care of New york's Shearith Israel.
The sons of Isaac Touro became successsful merchants, Abraham in Boston and Judah in New Orleans. Their generosity included both Newport. Abraham Touro purchased the land to create Touro Park, which is a few blocks from the Synagogue. in 1820, Abraham built a brick wall around the old Jewish cemetery. Thiry years later, Judah replaced the brick wall with a granite wall. When Abraham died in 1822, he left a fund to care for the Synagogue, and a second fund to care for the street, whose name was then changed from Griffin to Touro St.
Originally, as far was we know, the only seating was the wainscoting around the walls. The floor consisted of wide wooden floor boards., now covered by a carpet To accommodate the modern congregation, there are reproduction chairs. Other modern additions are a memorial stone to the Rabbis from the late 19th century, a bookcase behind the bimah and two displays containing memorial books on each side of the ark
Newport has over 300 buildings that were built before 1800. Touro Synagogue today nestles among them.