The museum is located on a four acre site on the eastern edge of the village of Maria Saal. It is divided into four terraces which, due to the varying landscape and natural vegetation, allows for the set up of farmyards into different real-life contexts, maintaining a natural flow along the trail. By doing this, history can be preserved (see Museumsplan).
On the site there are six yard units from the different Carinthian designs; each yard consists of several main and auxiliary buildings. The presentation of the buildings and their set up is done according to strict museum principles and shows, in each case, a closed overall view of the historical old form of a Carinthian farm. This scene offers an insight into rural settlement, which corresponds generally speaking to the predominant small and single yard settlement of Austria. The loose grouping of courtyards, their location within the central museum area, and the rising terrain with several forest strips, ditches and field margins, partially limited by historical fence forms, results in an excellent overall framework.
The efforts to establish an open-air ethnographic museum in Carinthia dates back to the 1930s. The reputable Carinthian field researcher Dr Oswin Moro († 1941) was the founder of the Carinthian Heritage Museum. He was responsible for creating the first and most important ethnographic collections in the country. HR Ferdinand Raunegger († 1943) advised and provided the crucial motivational ideas. In 1936, Raunegger prevented the demolition of St Oswald Bodnerhaus, located near Bad Kleinkirchheim by paying a deposit and this provided the first farmhouse for the museum.
Due to the outbreak of World War II the relocation of the Bodnerhaus farmhouse was not possible. The project had to be delayed until 1951-52 when the Bodnerhaus was relocated, under the direction of the new Director of the National Museum of Carinthia, Dr Gotbert Moro, assisted by former curators Dr Oskar Moser and Dr Franz Koschier.
In subsequent years, additional farm buildings were purchased such as a stable block (Blochstadeln), granaries (Getreidespeicher) and a flourmill (Flodermühle) and were transferred to the newly acquired land at Kreuzbergl near Klagenfurt. All pre-war purchased farm buildings from the Nockgebiet (area north of Carinthia) were transferred to the museum and laid out in the alpine farmyard setting, to preserve for future generations.
Since the museum was established, new regional and professional standards had been developed. In 1960 the Association of Friends of the Maria Saal Open-Air Museum was constituted and they acquired the land that the museum is now situated on. This initiative was instigated by Dr. Francis Neuner († 1963), an Industrialist from Klagenfurt and further financial assistance was gained from the Province of Carinthia and a local bank (Kärntner Sparkasse).The outdoor museum at Maria Saal was officially opened on 22 August 1972. It has become an important cultural institution of the farming community, worldwide. The general public has shown an unusually strong interest in this open-air museum, which is the first of its kind in Austria.