Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin arrived in Newport from Barbados as early as 1658, forming the second oldest Jewish community in the U.S. In 1677 a Jewish cemetery was established at the corner of what are now Kay and Touro Streets, and in 1759 construction began on a synagogue three blocks to the northwest. Designed by Peter Harrison and finished in 1763, the synagogue is canted to the street, so that worshipers observing the Holy Ark face east towards Jerusalem. In 1822 Abraham Touro bequeathed money to the State of Rhode Island for the maintenance of the street (re-named Touro Street) running between the cemetery and the synagogue, and additional money for maintaining the latter, which was called Touro Synagogue thereafter. In the nineteenth century the congregation waned, and the synagogue was used infrequently; but it re-opened in 1883 with the arrival in Newport of Jews from Eastern Europe.
Located west of the synagogue and opened in 2009 is the Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center, which contains exhibition spaces, and has annexed the adjacent Barney House (circa 1702) to further its capacity. Between the center and the synagogue is Patriots Park, which honors the roles played by Jews in American history. Created in the 1970s, dedicated in 1980, and renovated in the late 2000s, the park also features a bronze reproduction of George Washington’s letter of 1790, responding to Newport’s Jewish community with an affirmation of religious freedom. Touro Synagogue was designated a National Historic Site in 1946.